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The 5 Biggest Surprises From The 2006 InformationWeek Global Security Survey

A tip of the hat to all the InformationWeek readers who participated in this year's Global Security Survey. In this week's issue, I wrote a story analyzing the survey's results and drilling down beyond the numbers by speaking with a few of you who took the survey and other security pros who likewise had interesting things to say. Th
A tip of the hat to all the InformationWeek readers who participated in this year's Global Security Survey. In this week's issue, I wrote a story analyzing the survey's results and drilling down beyond the numbers by speaking with a few of you who took the survey and other security pros who likewise had interesting things to say. The data and interviews were insightful. Here are the five biggest surprises I encountered while covering the survey:Number 1: Only 11% of the 966 U.S. companies polled say they're feeling more vulnerable to malicious code attacks and security breaches than they did a year ago. It's a finding consistent with what European, Chinese, and Indian companies say in our survey as well.

It makes sense that companies would be worried less this year about malicious code attacks. As Gary Farrar, CIO of Town North Bank in Dallas, told me, "A virus probably won't get your name in the paper, but identity theft would. There are also no financial penalties that I'm aware of for being infected with a virus." He's right. Even from where I sit, readers seem to be more interested in hearing about inside jobs, logic bombs, and successful attempts to crack into a network than they are about debilitating viruses or worms, which already seem so last-year.

Number 2: One-quarter of U.S. companies surveyed said, if they are more vulnerable to an attack than they were last year, it's because they have inadequate patching procedures. This is a fault that users and vendors alike can share the blame for. Security pros have been dealing with patches for a long time now, so there's little excuse for not having some sort of drill when it comes to installing the latest patches. Yet software vendors often make patching a very complicated process, and one that doesn't necessarily deliver the expected results. Patches have been known to break seemingly healthy systems. And there seems to be a never-ending list of patches, particularly for Microsoft products.

Some users want their vendors to issue patches quickly once flaws are discovered, even if those patches aren't perfect. "I'm already worried that it takes too long for them to issue patches," Joe Dial, information security administrator for the Newport News, Va., offices of Siemens VDO Automotive, told me. "I would be willing to indemnify them for problems with the patches, though not for the original product being patched." Other users are fed up with the constant need to patch. "Secure coding is difficult, and some companies are not devoting the resources," Joel Garmon, director of information security for Florida Power & Light Co., told me.

Number 3: About half of the U.S. companies surveyed measure the value of their security investments by the amount of time they spend working on security-related issues. One-quarter of the companies surveyed use the amount of time devoted to patching software as a measure of the value of security investments. And 22% of U.S. companies said they don't measure the value of these investments. How's that?

Number 4: More than half of U.S. companies have been hit by viruses, and more than a third by phishing and worms, even though 84% of U.S. companies have implemented virus-detection software. One problem here is the inefficient model used to deploy anti-virus software. "If we have 17,000 devices using anti-virus software, and we have to touch even 4 to 7% of them every month, that's a lot of touches," Garmon told me. "An AV management console has to know all of the devices trying to connect into that console. I want to push a button and have the console recognize all of these devices and give me a good status report. I want to be able to set up different policies for different user groups and push those policies out, and then I want to forget about it."

Number 5: When it comes to choosing a security product or service, only 47% of U.S. companies, 38% of Indian companies, 28% of European companies, and 23% of Chinese companies indicated that "time to implementation" was an important criteria. I would have thought speed is essential to any security strategy, but companies are saying several other things--including the overall technical strength of a product, total cost of ownership, and the level of vendor support--are more important. This could mean companies have a more evolved perspective on security, but I tend to think it's more a question of companies not being able to quickly decide on and implement a course of action when it comes to security.

IT shops are still holding down the fort for the most part, but security has never been more complex, and you're never more than a step ahead of danger. Just because the big, bad wolf hasn't found your house yet doesn't mean he won't.

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