Survey: Organizations Concerned With Finding Balance Between Using Emerging Technology, Protecting Information

An increasingly mobile workforce, cloud computing and social networking all pose significant threats to organizations' information security programs, according to the 13th annual Ernst & Young Global Information Security Survey. The report, titled Borderless security: Ernst & Young's 2010 Global Information Security Survey, indicates that while there is a commitment to protecting data, organizations still face advanced, persistent threats that jeopardize the traditional corporate umbrella.

The report is based on a survey of nearly 1,600 senior executives in 56 countries and takes an in-depth look at the challenges organizations face when it comes to current trends, new technologies used by their workforce and the difficulties of trying to protect information while operating in a virtual business environment. As these changes bring new risks, the survey also examines how organizations are adapting and addressing their information security needs. The results show that 60 percent perceive increased risk from the use of social networking, cloud computing and personal mobile devices at work.  Additionally, 64 percent of respondents see data protection as one of the top IT risks that has escalated in the current environment.

"Organizations are operating in a world that requires borderless security. The trend toward anywhere, anytime access to information has significantly changed today's business environment," says Bernie Wedge, Americas Information Technology Risk and Assurance practice leader at Ernst & Young LLP. "Information access by employees using mobile devices, or items that are maintained and accessed by customers, vendors or other business partners, are considered outside traditional borders. Therefore, companies must think about security beyond their employees, data centers and firewalls."

Additionally, businesses no longer view information security management programs as insurance policies to be used only in the event of a disaster.

"We hear from clients that 'it's all about the data.' We see a change in attitude among leading organizations who now view information security, including business continuity and resiliency systems, as part of an ongoing strategy that is vital to business operations and competitiveness," said Jose Granado, Ernst & Young LLP's Americas practice leader for Information Security Services. "In fact, 62 percent say that business continuity plans and capabilities are among their top five priorities for this year."

The proliferation of a mobile workforce has put employees on the front line of information security.  According to the survey, respondents view the most serious risk associated with mobile computing as the potential loss of business information; 52 percent see the use of personal devices as the main cause of data leakage.

In addition, 53 percent of respondents indicate that workforce mobility is a considerable challenge to delivering information security solutions effectively. The majority of respondents (92 percent) also view employee awareness of security as a challenge, as the demands of an increasingly mobile workforce change the way companies support and protect the flow of information.

"Most organizations recognize the increased risks associated with mobile computing and are taking steps to address these issues," Wedge said. "They are making policy adjustments, increasing security awareness activities and employee training, as well as implementing encryption techniques and identity and access management controls."

Overall, organizations recognize the risks that come with emerging technology trends and are taking steps to protect information with stronger information security programs. In fact, half of those surveyed plan to increase spending on data leakage/data loss prevention efforts over the next year.

But, while spending will increase to protect data, many organizations still feel pressured to reduce IT spend in other areas, leading them to look externally for efficient solutions. Despite an unproven track record, 45 percent of organizations are currently using, evaluating or planning to use cloud computing services within the next 12 months. The risks associated with cloud computing include data leakage, with 52 percent identifying it as the largest associated risk, followed by 39 percent who cite the lost visibility of company data as an increased risk of cloud-based solutions. 

However, most respondents (85 percent) indicate that external certification of cloud service providers would help to evaluate security controls and increase trust.

Evidence also suggests that few organizations have fully assessed the risks associated with social networking. Just one-third report that social media presents a considerable information security challenge and only 10 percent say examining new and emerging IT trends is a very important information security function.

The focus in information security is shifting from a technology-only approach to a technology and people approach, as information security becomes an expanded function of which all employees are aware of and have a responsibility to adhere to. Without clearly defined and communicated security policies on the use of new technology, organizations' exposure to risk will increase.

"The combination of more mobility, increased social access to information and outsourcing to the cloud requires a change in traditional information security paradigms," Granado said. "The 'outsiders are now the insiders,' meaning people and organizations outside the borders of the traditional corporate environment play a role in helping to achieve information security objectives, but can also pose a risk to protecting your information. A comprehensive IT risk management program must focus on people, processes and technology to address information throughout its life cycle, wherever it resides." 

The full report is available at


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