Enterprises need to focus on data, enterprise culture

Security experts rate mobile threats and the ability to control data shared online rate among the highest risks

It's no secret that enterprise users are bringing more types of IT devices to work -- devices not necessarily condoned or managed by IT -- while they're also using more cloud-based services to store, manage, and share their work related files.

In short, IT's already tenuous grip on how workers access enterprise data is rapidly losing more of its hold.

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Georgia Tech's annual Cyber Security Summit, held Oct. 11, 2011, where security experts from industry, academia, and government discussed some of the more pressing IT security challenges, found the mobile threats and the ability to control data shared online among the highest risks.

The Georgia Tech Cyber Security Summit 2012 report is available here for download.

Also, earlier this summer, the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth held a Human Behavior and Security Culture workshop, with the paper published last week and made available here. The workshop included security leaders from Automatic Data Processing, Inc., Bechtel, Cigna, Cisco, Colgate-Palmolive, Eastman Chemical Company, eBay, General Dynamics, Goldman Sachs, L.L. Bean, the Mitre Corp., Providence Health & Services, Praxair, Staples, Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide, Stream Global Services, Time Inc., and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

Those who attended discussed how technology and regulatory compliance mandates alone are not sufficient to manage risk. Here are some of the insights found:

Culture is a security tool. An organizational culture that values sound security practices is far more effective than regulations that simply mandate them. Information security executives can bring about cultural change by introducing security to company lore, employing a judicious mix of positive and negative examples, and using social media to create viral awareness campaigns.

Generation-Y is here, and gaining influence. People entering the work force today are accustomed to working on a variety of mobile platforms and to storing and sharing data using cloud-based systems and social networking sites. They have a more permissive view of information-sharing than older workers, and they expect to work on their own schedules, with devices of their choosing, often from remote locations. All of these behaviors enhance risk, and they will become more prevalent and more difficult to curtail as Gen-Y workers continue to gain influence in their organizations.

Don't manage the device, manage the data. Faced with a tidal wave of consumer devices, workshop participants advocated data-centric security models. The "green screen" is back in vogue and Citrix has become everyone's best friend, as companies herd data away from the endpoints to protected areas. Described as "Hotel California", this strategy allows data to check out, but never leave.

Consumers persist in dangerous behaviors, and frequently resist help. Education and awareness is of limited use with very large populations of users, and it's not possible to provide protected infrastructures to large groups of clients or consumers. To facilitate better security, consumers may have to take more personal responsibility and trade some privacy for security. Facing real consequences -- such as financial liability for a stolen credit card -- could help consumers develop better habits. So could clear, immediate feedback such as color-coded password warnings.

Teach employees to think for themselves. Security is everyone's job and security executives are reaching for new ways to encourage employees to trust their judgment, and to question practices they believe may increase risk. This is particularly important for middle managers, who frequently make decisions weighing security risk against potential business gains. Some companies are training IT helpdesk personnel to take a more proactive role in security and security education.

The Dartmouth report says the concurrent trends of consumers bringing their own devices and using cloud and online services of their choice coincides with rising threats. "Attacks targeting individuals are growing more sophisticated and persistent. The market for illicit information is more active and organized than ever, so that stolen data are more easily moved and more readily converted to cash. The ability to quickly disseminate information via social media, without regard for the gatekeepers of old media, is an incentive for activist hackers," the report stated.

This story, "Enterprises need to focus on data, enterprise culture" was originally published by CSO.

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