Workers and IT Still Worlds Apart on Datasec

By Matthew Hines  |  Posted 2008-10-29 Print this article Print

Communication break down, it's always the same.

Led Zeppelin likely wasn't talking data security when they penned their classic rock tune low those many years ago, but based on a new report issued by Cisco, the biggest issue in data security today remains the disconnect between IT departments and their end users.

The latest installment of Cisco's data security research series, which it has been publishing for the last year or so, finds that a significant gap remains in policy awareness among employees and IT specialists worldwide, and the company contends that the issue is likely linked to the fact that the two group rarely communicate other than via e-mail and print messages.

In addition, the survey of 2,000 employees and IT professionals in 10 countries found that workers frequently break policies even when they aware of them, based largely on the fact that they feel that the rules get in the way of activities that they need to complete to do their jobs.

"This study reinforces the need to revisit corporate security policy and how that policy is communicated," John N. Stewart, chief security officer for Cisco said in a report summary. "When employees believe that security policy is unfair, in the way of them doing their jobs and don't grasp the 'why', then policies quickly lose their efficacy. Too often we write policies as rules, not as reasons, and if brought together with awareness, education and communication, then it unmasks why policies are necessary, critical and help. By engaging with employees and understanding what they need to do their jobs, we can develop realistic policies that work more cohesively and effectively with corporate security, ultimately resulting in a more secure environment."

Among the specific report findings:

-Some 77 percent of the companies surveyed have security policies in place.

-The absence of security policies is most prevalent in Japan (39 percent) and the UK (29 percent).

-France (84 percent) has the most employees who admitted defying policies.

-In India, one in 10 employees (11 percent) admitted never or hardly ever abiding by security policies.

-Depending on the country, the number of IT professionals who knew a policy existed was 20 to 30 percent higher than the number of employees.

-The largest gaps (31 percent) were in the United States, Brazil and Italy.

-Roughly 11 percent of employees said IT never communicates or educates them on security policies.

-This finding is especially prevalent in Europe, where the UK (25 percent) and France (20 percent) featured the greatest number of employees making this claim.

-Three of four IT professionals (77 percent) believed their policies require more frequent updates, while half of the employees (47 percent) echoed that sentiment. China (91 percent) and India's (89 percent) IT respondents were the most vocal.

-Employees said the top reason for non-compliance is their belief that policies do not align with the reality of what they need to do their jobs. More than two of five employees (42 percent) made this claim globally. In Germany, even though the majority of employees felt their companies' policies were fair, more than half of them (55 percent) said they would break them to complete their jobs.

"This decision employees make to either adhere to policies or sidestep them to complete their jobs presents a noteworthy challenge to IT," Marie Hattar, vice president of Network Systems and Security Solutions for Cisco said in the report. "IT needs to reshape security policies to meet the real needs of businesses and employees, or they risk a policy breakdown and a greater risk for data loss and breaches."

Matt Hines has been following the IT industry for over a decade as a reporter and blogger, and has been specifically focused on the security space since 2003, including a previous stint writing for eWeek and contributing to the Security Watch blog. Hines is currently employed as marketing communications manager at Core Security Technologies, a Boston-based maker of security testing software. The views expressed herein do not necessarily represent the views of Core Security, and neither the company, nor its products and services will be actively discussed in the blog. Please send news, research or tips to |

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