IT pros, remote workers fess up to security lapses

Australia among the highest percentages of respondents that open suspicious e-mail and attachments despite risk of triggering malware attacks

Two separate security surveys this week on network access control reach similar conclusions: Employees have immoderate access rights, and management should face up to the challenge of reining in out-of-control access without sacrificing productivity gains.

Research firm Ponemon Institute Tuesday released the results of its "2008 National Survey on Access Governance," which polled 700 information technology practitioners from business and government on the topic of how organizations determine who should have access to information resources and the appropriate level of access.

Ponemon found that 52 per cent of the IT professionals surveyed did not believe access rights are well-managed in their organization, and 78 per cent thought employees often or on occasion had "too much access to information resources not pertinent with their job function." 19 per cent responding simply said they were unsure.

The survey, which was sponsored by security governance vendor Aveksa, suggests that "People are getting too much access to things," says Larry Ponemon, the Institute's founder. "The No. 1 issue is that we have a problem in that organizations that claim to manage roles and responsibilities may not be doing so."

In the survey, respondents acknowledged the risk to intellectual property, customer information and general business information from poorly managed access. The study also sought to shed some light on why organizations are struggling with the access governance problem.

The decision-making process varies considerably. Twenty-nine percent said access to information assets is granted on an "ad hoc" basis for certain projects, 25 per cent said it was to meet "departmental demands," and 21 per cent cited "job function or role," while 10 per cent acknowledged "no systematic approach" and 8 per cent thought it was according to "position level or rank."

As to technology use, 36 per cent said they used "homegrown access control systems", 30 per cent said "automated solutions", 13 per cent cited a "a manual process," 5 per cent said "e-mail requests" and 7 per cent answered "helpdesk."

The Ponemon Institute study concluded "taken together, our findings indicate that the distributed nature of the organization has resulted in a breakdown in centralized policy management."

Ponemon's study stated it was hard to pinpoint accountability for granting access and too frequently there was no review of what employees' jobs require them to do over time.

A separate survey this week of 2,000 remote workers and IT professionals worldwide conducted by InsightExpress and sponsored by Cisco showed employees are often left to their own devices -- and are enjoying it.

The survey found 56 per cent of remote workers felt that the Internet is safer than it was last year but 55 per cent of IT staff said they thought remote employees working outside the office are becoming less aware and disciplined in their online behavior.

The survey showed corporate computers are frequently used for shopping and social networking while the individual's home computer, not under management of the IT department, is often used to access work files.

Twelve percent of remote workers admitted to hijacking a neighbor's wireless connections, with workers in Japan, France, China and United Kingdom confessing to stealing wireless access the most. China, the United Kingdom, Japan, Australia and the United States had the highest percentages of respondents who admitted they open suspicious e-mail and attachments despite the potential for triggering malware attacks.

Issues with remote workers are coming to the fore because "companies are becoming highly decentralized," comments Tom Gillis, vice president of marketing in Cisco's IronPort unit. "There's a blurring line between business and personal use here."

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Ellen Messmer

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