Majority of Security Pros Let Productivity Trump Security

A survey found that 64% of IT security professionals will tweak security to give workers more flexibility to be productive when asked to make that move by top executives.



Tension between the IT security department and workers' desire to remain as productive as possible continues to thrive, according to a report released today by Bromium.

The survey of 175 security professionals found that 64% of respondents admit to lowering the security bar when asked by top executives to allow workers the flexibility to remain productive.

These results reveal that it's not necessarily the IT security department that is calling the shots when it comes to protecting customer data, the network, and people's IP, according to the report. Often, these security professionals are trumped by their company's leadership, the survey notes.

"Whenever an organization adopts a security policy, we are surprised how many will break it," says Simon Crosby, CTO and co-founder of Bromium.

The willingness to lower the security bar tends to mirror the natural human instinct when it comes to assessing risk, Crosby explains. He compares it to driving to a neighborhood store to get a carton of milk and debating whether to wear a seatbelt. The discussion inside the driver's mind would rationalize that there is a risk of getting hit but that risk is small, he notes.

"The security guys may also say the risk is tiny when evaluating the request. But it is this repeated risk-taking that opens up tiny holes and leads to a porous security situation," Crosby says.

He adds that once a security professional grants an exception to a security policy, they may forget to return it to its more secure state once the need to lower the bar has passed.

Hitting the Security Off Button

The survey also found that 40% of IT infosec professionals are willing to turn off security if asked by another department within the organization.

"I am not surprised by the 40%. We need to be productive but need to do it without sacrificing security," Crosby says. "We are happy to lie to ourselves and think we are securing the organization when we have these policies that we know workers will break."

In addition to a willingness to turn security off if another department asks, the survey also finds that 55% of respondents would remove security features if they could do it, and still maintain their organization's safety from user-introduced threats.

On the wish list of security features they would like to remove, 32% of infosec professionsal respondents cite web proxy services and products that limit or slow down users' access as the first on the list, according to the report.

"In general, people will turn off the web proxy if it impacts user productivity and it gets them off their backs," says Crosby. "Security teams rely on defense in depth and tell themselves I have antivirus at the endpoint and all these other things to protect me. It makes sense to turn things off and it's imperative to do so."

Alternatives to Hitting the Off Switch

One approach to securing an organization is building resilience into the system, Crosby says.

"There needs to be granular isolation between the apps and the OS, and also between the apps themselves," he notes. "The administered systems will fail at some point but you want them to be able to continue to operate, so you need to build resiliency into the system."

He compared this approach to Netflix's use of a Byzantine Fault Tolerance system in which rather than having its operations on one big mainframe which could fail, it operates on a distributed architecture on a number of micro severs. As a result, a portion of the business could fail but it would still be able to operate.

"You can do this in the cloud and you can do this at the endpoint," he notes.

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Dawn Kawamoto is an Associate Editor for Dark Reading, where she covers cybersecurity news and trends. She is an award-winning journalist who has written and edited technology, management, leadership, career, finance, and innovation stories for such publications as CNET's ... View Full Bio

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