Whose fault is it that users are the weakest link?

An organization can spend mountains of cash on best of breed network defenses and security tools, but it can all come crashing down with one click from a user. Users are the weakest link when it comes to network and computer security, but a new survey from Globalscape reveals that the users themselves aren’t entirely to blame.

A recent Ponemon Institute study found that two-thirds of all data breaches can be attributed to negligence, human error, and system glitches. Most security tools are engineered to guard against external attacks, and to protect “us” (authorized users inside the network) from “them” (any unauthorized users). The simple fact, though, is that an authorized user can easily render all of the security defenses useless by exposing sensitive data—whether intentionally or inadvertently.

Globalscape decided to stand up for the little guy, so to speak, by conducting a survey to find out whether it’s really fair to lay all of the blame on the end users. Globalscape surveyed 532 IT professionals and found that in many organizations there is a complete lack of understanding regarding data protection policies. In many cases, users aren’t aware whether their organization even has any such policies in place.

The Globalscape survey found:

• Only 48% of employees said that their companies have policies for sending sensitive files

• 30% said that their companies don’t have policies in place

• 22% weren’t sure whether a policy existed

Even in situations where the company has a policy, and the users are aware of the policy, there is frequently no monitoring or policy enforcement. Globalscape also found that in organizations with a policy in place governing the transmission and distribution of sensitive information, 62 percent of users still use remote or mobile devices, and 54 percent use personal email accounts

Policy enforcement is also lacking. Of those employees at companies that have policies for sending sensitive information, 62% still use remote devices and 54% still use personal email which circumvent security controls and put the data at risk.

Let’s face it—even with superior end-user training, phenomenal policies and policy enforcement, and the best security controls money can buy, an authorized end user is still the weakest link because they have access to sensitive data, and the means to expose or compromise it. However, the Globalscape survey illustrates that the truth of the statement that users are the weakest link is not purely a function of user apathy, incompetence, or malicious intent. The organization and IT admin have some responsibility there as well.

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