Has your intellectual property been stolen?

August 2010 Cyber Security

While snooping continues to rise, IT security is making it harder for insiders to get around controls that protect highly sensitive information.

The results of Cyber-Ark Software’s fourth annual Trust, Security and Passwords global survey show that 35% of respondents believe their company’s highly sensitive information has been handed over to competitors. 37% of the IT professionals surveyed cited ex-employees as the most likely source of this abuse of trust.

While perhaps not surprising that disgruntled workers top the list, it is noteworthy that 28% 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 10%. The most popular information shared with competitors was the customer database (26%) and R&D plans (13%).

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.

Adam Bosnian
Adam Bosnian

Snooping on the rise

The research also confirmed that snooping continues to rise within organisations both in the UK and the US. 41% of respondents confessed to abusing administrative passwords to snoop on sensitive or confidential information – an increase from 33% 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 (38% versus 16% in the UK) with HR records most alluring to UK respondents (30% versus 28% 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, 61% responded they could circumvent those controls – a decrease from 77% in 2009. Additionally, 88% of IT professionals believe their use of these privileged accounts should be monitored, however only 70% of organisations actually attempt to do so – with one-third turning a blind eye to what is happening within their networks and therefore failing to meet regulatory and compliance requirements. Insider sabotage, unfortunately and rather disconcertingly, has increased from 20% last year to 27% this year.

Speaking about the results, Cyber-Ark’s executive vice president Americas and corporate development, Adam Bosnian commented, “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. 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 us face it, you might as well sell the information to the highest bidder yourself – that way at least you will have some control over who has got it.”

IT the best at snooping

The survey found that 67% 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 (54%) 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 35% who identified the IT department as likely suspects in 2009, a number that had decreased from 47% in 2008. Respondents identified Human Resources the next curious at

11%, followed by administrative assistants.

To download a detailed report of the survey results, please visit http://www.cyber-ark.com/constants/white-papers.asp

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