IT pros, remote workers admit to security lapses

Polls reveal less-than-optimum practices

Two recent surveys on network access control reach similar conclusions: Employees have too many access rights, and management should face up to the challenge of reining in out-of-control access without sacrificing productivity gains.

Research firm Ponemon Institute has released the results of its "2008 National Survey on Access Governance", which polled 700 IT practitioners from business and government on the topic of how organisations determine who should have access to information resources and the appropriate level of access.

Ponemon found that 52% of the IT professionals surveyed did not believe access rights are well-managed in their organisation, and 78% thought employees often or on occasion had "too much access to information resources not pertinent with their job function". A further 19% simply said they were unsure.

The survey, which was sponsored by security governance vendor Aveksa, suggests that "People are getting too much access to things", says Larry Ponemon, the Institute's founder. "The number one issue is that we have a problem in that organisations that claim to manage roles and responsibilities may not be doing so."

In the survey, respondents acknowledged the risk to intellectual property, customer information and general business information from poorly managed access. The study also sought to shed some light on why organisations are struggling with the access governance problem.

The decision-making process varies considerably. Twenty-nine percent of respondents said access to information assets is granted on an "ad hoc" basis for certain projects, 25% said it was to meet "departmental demands", and 21% cited "job function or role", while 10% acknowledged "no systematic approach" and 8% thought it was according to "position level or rank".

As to technology use, 36% said they used "homegrown access control systems", 30% said "automated solutions", 13% cited a "a manual process", 5% said "email requests" and 7% answered "helpdesk".

The Ponemon Institute study concluded "taken together, our findings indicate that the distributed nature of the organisation has resulted in a breakdown in centralised policy management".

Ponemon's study found that it is hard to pinpoint accountability for granting access and too frequently there was no review of what employees' jobs require them to do over time.

A separate survey this week of 2,000 remote workers and IT professionals worldwide conducted by InsightExpress and sponsored by Cisco showed employees are often left to their own devices.

The survey found 56% of remote workers felt that the internet is safer than it was last year but 55% of IT staff said they thought remote employees working outside the office are becoming less aware and disciplined in their online behaviour.

The survey showed corporate computers are frequently used for shopping and social networking while the individual's home computer, not under management of the IT department, is often used to access work files.

Twelve per cent of remote workers admitted to hijacking a neighbor's wireless connections, with workers in Japan, France, China and the UK confessing to stealing wireless access the most. China, the UK, Japan, Australia and the United States had the highest percentages of respondents who admitted they open suspicious email and attachments despite the potential for triggering malware attacks.

Issues with remote workers are coming to the fore because "companies are becoming highly decentralised", comments Tom Gillis, vice president of marketing in Cisco's IronPort unit. "There's a blurring line between business and personal use here," he says.

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