South African CEOs are getting more hands-on with information security issues
South African organisations are giving information security top-level priority compared to their global counterparts.
That is according to a survey released today by audit and business advisory firm Ernst & Young.
The 2004 Ernst & Young Global Information Security Survey covered 1233 respondents from 51 countries. Of the 34 organisations sampled in South Africa, 59% of respondents are listed on the JSE Securities Exchange.
According to the findings of the survey, 42% of South African organisations rated information security as a top-level priority issue that was driven by the office of the chief executive. This compares with only 20% of global respondents who regarded information security as a CEO-driven issue.
According to the results of the survey, close to 70% of the respondents' boards of directors failed to receive a quarterly report about the organisations' information security status. This could prove problematic since information security is a critical component of organisational risk - something the board should have a handle on.
On the other hand, giving credence to the importance of information security, 14% of global respondents said their security department reports directly to the office of the chief executive. This compares with 28% of respondents whose security issues are handled by the chief information officer. The remainder have much lower representation which poses a challenge to these organisations to raise information security as an executive issue.
According to Grant Brewer, Ernst & Young partner for Information Systems Assurance & Advisory Services, the importance of information security becomes increasingly elevated as companies align the achievement of their objectives with a more robust information security system.
"As the dangers facing intellectual property become more pronounced and increasingly complex, information security becomes a top drawer issue.
"Understandably, as information security becomes a central feature of the company's operations, and as misperceptions about its importance are dispelled, the issue assumes a high-priority level within an organisation," says Brewer.
Brewer says companies can transform their view of information security, by approaching it as a way to gain competitive advantage and preserve shareholder value.
"However, this transformation must be led by a visible shift in attitude from the CEO and the board," he says.
"However, it is interesting to note that too many organisations feel that information security has no value when there is no visible attack," says Brewer. "This is a perception that has remained unchanged over the decade that Ernst & Young has been conducting this survey."
Being mindful of the increasing risks posed by information security threats, the respondents in the South African survey said they expected information security expenditure to increase by 50% over last year.
The majority of South African organisations sampled said government security regulations had an impact on their industry and organisations. This is in line with 44% global respondents who said government security regulations had a major impact on the industry and operations. Increasingly South African organisations are also looking to international regulations like the Sarbannes-Oxley and EU 8th Directive as a guide to implementing more rigorous controls.
The survey also found that 67% of the organisations sampled rated information security as critical to achieving overall business objectives compared to 26% who rated information security as 'somewhat important'.
About 24% of respondents expressed confidence in their effectiveness in meeting the information security needs of their organisations, while 1% of the respondents regarded their security department as 'very ineffective' in meeting the needs of the organisation.
In spite of growing awareness about the importance of information security among the respondents, the Ernst & Young survey found that organisations remained focused on external threats such as viruses while internal threats were generally neglected.
"Companies will readily commit to technology purchases, such as firewalls and virus protection, but are hesitant to assign priority to human capital," says Brewer, pointing out that no amount of technology can reduce the human threat.
"While the public's attention remains focused upon external threats, companies face far greater damage from insiders' misconduct, omissions, oversights or an organisational culture that violates existing standards," he added.
He warns that although internal incidents have failed to generate media scrutiny, this does not mean that employee misconduct does not happen. "On the contrary, they simply are either discovered but not made public, or even worse, undetected," notes Brewer.
More could and should be done by organisations to transform the skills and awareness of their people, who often present the greatest opportunity for vulnerabilities - and convert them into its strongest layer of defence, concludes Brewer.
* Respondents listed 'lack of security awareness by users' as the top obstacle to effective information security, however only 28% listed 'raising employee information security training or awareness' as being a top initiative in 2004.
* Just 20% strongly agreed that their organisations perceive information security as a CEO level priority.
* 'Employee misconduct involving information systems' was cited as a distant number two concern behind 'major virus, Trojan horse or Internet worms' regardless of geographic region, industry or organisational size.
* Less than half of the respondents provided their employees with ongoing training in security and controls.
* Only 24% gave their information security department the highest rating in meeting the needs of the organisation.
* Only 11% deemed government security-driven regulations as being highly effective in improving their information security posture or in reducing data protection risks.
* In preparing the survey, Ernst & Young conducted face-to-face interviews using a structured questionnaire with chosen respondents, usually chief information officers (CIOs) and chief information security information officers (CISOs).
* In those cases where a face-to-face interview was not possible, the survey was delivered electronically. 1233 organisations participated in the survey. Among them were some of the largest and best companies in the 51 countries that were represented.
For more information contact Grant Brewer, Ernst & Young, 011 772 3000, [email protected]
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