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6/9/2009
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Study: Most Employees Disobey Security Policies

New Ponemon Institute report finds end users are evading security controls at an increasing rate

Turns out end users are getting even worse about following security policies: A new study to be released tomorrow by the Ponemon Institute found that the majority of employees routinely violate their organizations' security policies.

Half of the around 1,000 corporate end-user respondents in the study, which was commissioned by IronKey, say their corporate data security policies are mostly ignored by both employees and management, and that those policies are difficult to understand, anyway.

"We found the rates are very high [of their] doing things that are violations of corporate security policy," says Larry Ponemon, chairman and founder of the Ponemon Institute. "I believe organizations across the board are trying to deal with [this]," he says.

Among the policy violations: misuse of USB sticks, personal email use, downloads of free apps for either personal or work use, loss of mobile devices, turning off firewall and other security settings on their machines, and social networking, Ponemon says.

Around 66 percent say they copy confidential data onto USB sticks -- up from 51 percent in 2007 -- while 87 percent say they "believe" such behavior is prohibited by their company's security policy. More than 50 percent say they use Web-based email accounts from their work machine, up from 45 percent in 2007. But 74 percent say they believe there is no corporate policy against doing so.

Around 43 percent have lost or misplaced a device that holds company data, an increase from 39 percent in 2007, and 75 percent did not immediately report the lost or missing device. Around 53 percent download personal applications onto their corporate machine, up from 45 percent in 2007, while 38 percent say their corporate policy does not allow that.

More than 70 percent of end users don't think their organizations have apolicy forbidding their turning off security settings (including a host firewall) on their work computers. And 21 percent say they disable those security settings, up from 17 percent two years ago.

Although more than 70 percent say their company forbids password-sharing with their colleagues, 47 percent still do so (compared to 46 percent in 2007). With more tools available online, as well as portable USB technologies, Ponemon says it makes sense that noncompliance could increase as end users start deploying these tools in the workplace. "Technology is a friend, but can also be an enemy from a security and privacy perspective," he says. "And the lack of enforcement [of security policies surrounding these tools] may be a function of the dismal financial conditions we're facing."

Still, with more organizations setting security policies and improved security technologies available, compliance should be better, he says. "That mean policies are not good enough," he says, or enforcement isn't occurring.

Have a comment on this story? Please click "Discuss" below. If you'd like to contact Dark Reading's editors directly, send us a message.

Kelly Jackson Higgins is the Executive Editor of Dark Reading. She is an award-winning veteran technology and business journalist with more than two decades of experience in reporting and editing for various publications, including Network Computing, Secure Enterprise ... View Full Bio

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