Wednesday, March 14, 2012

McAfee Report Exposes Contradictions in Security Perception vs. Reality

Organizations Recognize Pervasiveness and Resiliency of Cyber Criminals - "Yet 79 Percent Experienced a Significant Incident in Past 12 Months"

McAfee announced the State of Security report showing how IT decision-makers view the challenges of securing information assets in a highly regulated and increasingly complex global business environment. It also reveals companies’ IT security priorities around processes, practices and technology for 2012.

As the corporate data environment expands, effective information security is possible only by creating a Strategic Security Plan (SSP) which incorporates a comprehensive threat analysis and an in-depth, layered security risk mitigation approach. The survey looked to identify some of the key trends facing enterprises in developing their SSPs.

Security Maturity

The survey respondents categorized themselves into various states of security maturity. These categorizations help to understand the mindset of the companies as they view enterprise information security. The terms below are used to describe the level of security maturity of participating organizations:
  • Reactive – uses an ad hoc approach to defining security processes and is event driven. 9 percent of the surveyed companies claim to be at this stage.

  • Compliant – has some policies in place, but has no real standardization across security policies. The organization adheres to some security standards or the minimum required. 32 percent of the surveyed companies claim to be at this stage.

  • Proactive – follows standardized policies, has centralized governance, and has a degree of integration across some security solutions. 43 percent of the surveyed companies claim to be at this stage.

  • Optimized – follows security industry best practices and maintains strict adherence to corporate policy. The organization utilizes automated security solutions which are highly integrated across the enterprise. 16 percent of the surveyed companies claim to be at this stage.
The key findings included:

Organizations are confident about identifying the most critical threats to their environments and knowing where their critical data resides. However, most companies are not confident about quantifying the potential financial impact of a breach should one occur.

Organizational awareness and protection against information security risks is very important. However, one-third of the “Optimized” companies are uncertain about their IT security posture in terms of awareness and protection. Despite having formal strategic plans, 34 percent of the companies believe they are not adequately protected against information security risks which could impact their business.

A majority of the respondents tells that as they develop Strategic Security Plans, they include consideration of potential threats and the associated risk to business and financial analysis. Yet, four out of five of the companies experienced a significant security incident in the past 12 months.

Almost a third of organizations surveyed have either not purchased or not yet implemented many of the next-generation security technologies that are designed to address current-day threats, despite more than 80 percent of the organizations identifying malware, spyware and viruses as major security threats.

Two out of every five organizations have either an informal or ad hoc plan or no security strategic plan in place. The size of the organization matters when it comes to having a formal SSP. Six of every ten large enterprises have a formal SSP, two out of every three mid-size enterprises has a formal SSP, while this ratio dips to only one in two small enterprises.

Organizations in North America and Germany are more likely to have a formal SSP than those organizations in other regions of the world. This may be attributed to the regulatory environments in those countries.

Top priorities for 2012 include implementing stronger controls to protect sensitive data and ensuring business continuity. The lowest priority is to reduce capital and operating expenditures for security infrastructure, which in turn indicates that organizations are willing to spend on the right kind of security solutions.


While organizations are working on their strategic security plans and putting in their best efforts toward protecting business systems and critical data, there is much room for improvement all the way around.

Step up to a higher security maturity level. Only 16 percent of the survey respondents classify their organizations as being at the “Optimized” level. Worse, however, is the fact that 9 percent of the organizations are “Reactive” in their approach to IT security.
  • Executive involvement is crucial While IT and security personnel may take the lead in developing the plan, it’s important to have insight from those who best understand the business systems and the data they use. Moreover, executive involvement is critical to set the tone for the importance of security throughout the organization.
  • Test early, test often, and make adjustments as needed. What good is a plan if it is developed and put on a shelf? If it is never tested? Unfortunately we learned that 29 percent of “Compliant” companies never test how they would respond to an incident. What’s more, the fact that 79 percent of the surveyed companies had security incidents in the past year indicates that there are gaps in the security plans that must be addressed.

  • Use budget allocations wisely. Though every manager would like to have a bigger budget to be able to apply more safeguards, the “Optimized” companies have found ways to reach the highest level of performance with the same level of funding (percentage-wise) as the companies who are less prudent with their budgets.

  • Use the right tools for the current threats. The survey shows that 45 percent of the companies haven’t deployed next-generation firewalls. Mobile security is another area that should not be ignored, yet 25 percent of the organizations have not purchased any tools for this purpose.
Focus on protecting the lifeblood of the company-the sensitive corporate data. The top priorities for 2012 include implementing stronger controls to protect sensitive data and ensuring business continuity.

Additional high-priority activities are all meant to improve each organization’s overall security posture. This is encouraging because without timely recognition and mitigation of security threats, an organization may be the next news headline—and nobody wants that dubious distinction.

About the Survey

The survey was conducted by Evalueserve and included responses from 495 organizations. Countries included in the survey were: United States, Canada, United Kingdom, Germany, France, Brazil, Australia, Singapore, and New Zealand and range in size from a minimum of 1,000 employees to more than 50,000 employees. The report is available at:

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