A third of businesses claim their data was stolen

7 Jul 2010

More than a third of IT professionals believe their company’s highly sensitive information has been handed over to competitors.

Thirty-seven per cent of the IT professionals surveyed by Cyber-Ark cited ex-employees as the most likely source of this abuse of trust.

While perhaps not surprising that disgruntled workers top the list, it’s noteworthy that 28pc suspected “human error” as the next most likely cause, followed by falling victim to an external hack or loss of a mobile device/laptop, each at 10pc.

The most popular information shared with competitors was the customer database (26pc) and R&D plans (13pc).

Cyber-Ark’s fourth annual ‘Trust, Security and Passwords’ global survey is the result of interviews conducted in the spring of 2010 with more than 400 senior IT professionals both in the US and UK, mainly from enterprise-class companies. 

There was little year-over-year change in the number of respondents who suspected the loss of intellectual property to a competitor, indicating that more needs to be done to protect companies’ most valued assets.

Additionally, to address vulnerabilities related to human error that could expose a proprietary database or financial information, organisations must employ additional layers of control, such as the ability to grant privileges to sensitive data and systems on demand.

This limits “innocent” mistakes by allowing access to information only when users need it to perform a particular task or query.

Snooping and insider sabotage on the rise

The research also confirmed that snooping continues to rise within organisations both in the UK and the US.

Forty-one per cent of respondents confessed to abusing administrative passwords to snoop on sensitive or confidential information – an increase from 33pc in both 2008 and 2009.

When examining the information that people were willing to circumvent the rules to access, US respondents targeted the customer database first (38pc versus 16pc in the UK) with HR records most alluring to UK respondents (30pc versus 28pc in the US). 

Despite the rise, there was also the admission that organisations are trying to better curb snooping and are installing stronger controls to prevent these incidents.  Based on this year’s survey, 61pc responded they could circumvent those controls – a decrease from 77pc in 2009.

Additionally, 88pc of IT professionals believe their use of these privileged accounts should be monitored, however only 70pc of organisations actually attempt to do so – with one-third turning a blind eye to what’s happening within their networks and therefore failing to meet regulatory and compliance requirements.

Insider sabotage, unfortunately and rather disconcertingly, has increased from 20pc last year to 27pc this year.

“While we understand that human nature and the desire to snoop may never be something we can totally control, we should take heart that fewer are finding it easy to do so, demonstrating that there are increasingly effective controls available to better manage and monitor privileged access rights within organisations,” Cyber-Ark’s executive vice-president Americas and Corporate Development Adam Bosnian said.

“With insider sabotage on the increase, the time to take action has already passed and companies need to heed the warnings.

“It is the organisation’s obligation to protect its sensitive information and intellectual property. Failing to do so, in our opinion, makes the company as bad as those who are abusing their privileged positions.  Let’s face it, you might as well sell the information to the highest bidder yourself – that way at least you’ll have some control over who’s got it!,” continued Bosnian.

IT confess to being the best at snooping

The survey found that 67pc of respondents admitted having accessed information that was not relevant to their role. 

When asked what department was more likely to snoop and look at confidential information, more than half (54pc) identified the IT department, likely a natural choice given the group’s power and broad responsibility for managing multiple systems across the organisation.

Of note, this is an up-tick compared to the 35pc who identified the IT department as likely suspects in 2009, a number that had decreased from 47pc in 2008. Respondents identified human resources the next curious at 11pc, followed by administrative assistants.

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years