Employee behaviour key to improving information security, new survey finds

UK companies have become increasingly aware of the need to have information security policies in place, with seven out of eight large businesses now claiming to have one.

However, the high priority given to information security by companies does not necessarily translate into improved security awareness among employees.

Increasingly, companies are realising that to tighten up further on information security, they have to change their people’s behaviour.

These are among the early findings of the 2008 Information Security Breaches Survey (ISBS) carried out by a consortium, led by PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP, on behalf of the Department for Business, Enterprise & Regulatory Reform (BERR).

The survey shows that companies are placing greater trust in their staff and they want their staff to use technology to improve their effectiveness.

For example, 54% of UK companies now allow staff to access their systems remotely (up from 36% in 2006); every very large business gives remote access to at least some staff.

The proportion of businesses restricting Internet access to some staff only has nearly halved (from 42% to 24%), and only 9% give no staff access to the Internet.

At the same time, the survey shows that staff are increasingly targeted by social engineering attacks (where outsiders try to obtain confidential information from employees).

In addition, businesses are becoming increasingly concerned about what is being said about them on social networking sites (such as MySpace, Facebook and Bebo), and some staff have posted confidential information on these sites.

Against this background, companies are hardening their technical controls:

· Use of strong (i.e. multi-factor) authentication has nearly doubled since 2006. 14% of small businesses and 53% of large companies now use strong authentication for some of their systems.

· Two-thirds of companies that allow staff to access their systems remotely require additional authentication over that access. Virtual Private Network (VPN) use is almost universal among very large businesses for remote access.

· 81% of large companies block access to inappropriate websites and 86% log and monitor staff access to the Internet.

However, technology controls alone are not enough. Key to making sure that staff remain the organisation's greatest asset is to ensure they behave in a security-conscious way.

Increasingly, companies are focused on setting clear policies, making staff aware of the policies and then monitoring behaviour to ensure that it is in line with those policies.

The proportion of companies that have an information security policy has quadrupled over the last eight years.

Large businesses remain more likely to have a security policy; seven out of eight do so, and some of the 12% that do not have a security policy per se have an integrated overall set of business policies that include information security.

Some 68% of companies surveyed that give a high or very high priority to security have a security policy (up from 55% in 2006 when the last ISBS was conducted) compared with 64% of those that treat security as low or no priority (up massively from 13% in 2006).

There is some correlation between how clearly senior management understands security issues and whether a security policy is in place.

However, even where senior management has a very poor understanding, 56% of those businesses have a security policy.

The biggest correlation is between security policy and risk assessment; companies that carry out risk assessment are nearly twice as likely to have a security policy in place as those that do not.

Security awareness is not just an issue for a company’s staff. Nearly two-thirds of very large companies would welcome more education for the general public about information security risks.