Cyber Crime: The 2009 Mega Threat

What threats to a company's sensitive and confidential data are getting worse, staying the same or actually becoming more manageable?

The 2009 Security Mega Trends Survey was conducted by Ponemon Institute and sponsored by Lumension to better understand if certain publicized IT risks to personal and confidential data are, or should be, more or less of a concern for companies. We asked 577 IT security practitioners to consider how 10 Security Mega Trends affect companies today and to predict their impact during the next 12 to 24 months. The opinions of these experts, we believe, will be helpful to companies that are struggling to understand how they should allocate resources to the protection of data during these difficult economic times.

We selected the following mega trends for this study based on input from a panel of experts in IT security. They are: cloud computing, virtualization, mobility and mobile devices, cyber crime, outsourcing to third parties, data breaches and the risk of identity theft, peer-to-peer file sharing and Web 2.0.

The study examined the risks posed by mega trends that exist today and how the risk will change over the next 12 to 24 months. According to an overwhelming 77 percent of individuals in IT security responding to our survey, cyber crime will become a high or very high risk over the next 12 to 24 months.

The selection of cyber crime as the mega trend most likely to be a high or very high risk in the next 12 to 24 months can be partly based on the fact that 92 percent of respondents in our study reported that their companies have had a cyber attack. The biggest security risk associated with cyber crime is that such an attack will cause a business interruption followed by the theft of customer and employee data.

Other mega trends becoming more risky are cloud computing, malware, web 2.0 and mobile devices. In the case of cloud computing, it is the inability to assess or verify the security of data centers in the cloud and protect sensitive and confidential information. IT security practitioners see the risk of malware and Web 2.0 as resulting in the loss of sensitive or confidential business information including trade secrets.

It is interesting to note that in our study IT security respondents perceive the risk of a mobile workforce as decreasing but mobile devices remaining a high or very high risk for many companies. According to respondents, the most risky mobile device is the laptop computer and the number one concern is the inability to properly identify and authenticate remote users.

Data Breaches and Outsourcing Risks Continue

Data breaches and outsourcing are forecast to remain at the same level of risk. IT security practitioners continue to worry about data breaches because according to our study only 16 percent are very confident or confident that current security practices are able to prevent customer and employee data from being lost or stolen. Therefore, it is understandable why the majority of respondents in IT security believe data breaches will continue to pose a high and very high security threat to their organizations.

Because IT security professionals dont see the outsourcing of sensitive and confidential information to third parties as decreasing, it will remain a serious risk to an organizations information assets. The concern expressed by IT security practitioners in our study is about the difficulty in protecting sensitive or confidential information when unauthorized parties might be able to access private files.

Certain Risks Are Considered more Manageable

Becoming less of a concern are risks associated with a mobile work force, virtualization and P2P file sharing. Although it seems that the mobile work force will pose less of a risk, respondents believe the most significant security threat is the inability to properly identify and authenticate remote users. With respect to P2P, it is the concern that inadvertent transfers and disclosures of documents that reside on an organizations computers and laptops will occur. The most significant risk associated with virtualization technology is the inability to properly identify and authenticate users to multiple systems and third party access to private files without authorization.

Organizations are faced with a plethora of security threats to their confidential and sensitive data assets. Forecasting the areas that pose the highest risk will help companies create an IT security strategy that is as cost effective as possible in times of tightening budgets.

Dr. Larry Ponemon is the chairman and founder of The Ponemon Institute. For a copy of the 2009 Security Mega Trends Survey report, please contact

Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.

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