Companies overconfident on security posture, can't measure business impact

A good proportion of companies feel they are ready to identify potential security threats – yet eight out of 10 companies reported a significant security incident last year and many had no idea of their impact or how to react to them, the latest McAfee State of Security report ( has found.

Research firm Evalueserve Primary Research asked 495 respondents in nine countries to rate themselves in terms of their organisation's security maturity. Thirty-two per cent said they were "compliant" with security requirements, while 43 per cent said they had taken a "proactive" stance towards security and 16 per cent rated themselves as "optimised". Just nine per cent said they were still on a "reactive" position when it came to security.

While these measures showed a solid degree of confidence in corporate security planning, further questions revealed many companies may be kidding themselves. Despite rating themselves as "optimised" when it came to security planning, one-third of those respondents admitted they don't have a good handle on the awareness and protection of security threats in their environment.

Curiously, 80 per cent of respondents identified malware, spyware and viruses as major security threats – but while 45 per cent had not purchased or implemented next-generation security technologies – so-called "next generation firewalls" – to combat modern security threats. And, despite the universal rise of mobile devices in the enterprise, fully a quarter of respondents had not purchased any solutions for improving mobile security.

Jill Kyte, vice president at McAfee, warned that the growing complexity of corporate environments meant companies not only needed to boost their security planning, but to consider the additional threats posed by public and hybrid cloud environments.

"'The enterprise' now extends far beyond office walls and perimeter firewalls," she said. "Data and applications are being moved into public and hybrid cloud environments where the data owners have little direct control over security. All of this requires a business to have a Strategic Security Plan."

Even when an SSP is in place, the protections it provides may be largely hypothetical: fully 29 per cent of "compliant" companies surveyed never bothered to test how they would respond to a real incident by putting the SSP through its paces. These figures became worse when the size of the company was factored in: 60 per cent of large businesses, two-thirds of medium-sized businesses and just half of small businesses had developed a formal SSP.

The results suggest that suggests companies need to learn a lot more about the extent of their vulnerabilities – and what it means to have adequate security in place. It also suggests a significant disconnect between IT security practitioners and their executive overseers, whose involvement is crucial if SSPs are to be tied back to real business impacts.

This disconnect has a real cost, Kyte pointed out – as indicated by findings that 79 per cent of respondents could not assign a financial value to the security incidents they had suffered. "It's important to have insight from those who best understand the business systems and the data they use," she explains. "Executive involvement is critical to set the tone for the importance of security throughout the organisation."

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Copyright © 2012 IDG Communications, Inc.

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