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Public sector workers weak in IT security.

SafeBoot : 07 December, 2007  (Technical Article)
Despite high levels of IT security in the public sector and proactive awareness campaigns, employees continue to show low levels of compliance to security policies.
The recent spate of security breaches has created much scrutiny of government IT security, but according to cross-sector research carried out by SafeBoot, a leading vendor of enterprise-class security software for the protection of mobile data that resides on mobile and portable devices and computers, the public sector is the most security conscious group. 88 per cent of government organisations surveyed have a security policy in place, with over two thirds banning the use of external devices (such as iPods) at work in an attempt to mitigate potential security breaches.

Half of public sector IT managers use proactive communication methods (such as focus groups) to educate users, compared to just 19 per cent in the other sectors surveyed which shows the commitment being made. Despite this proactive focus on security, employees are still giving their IT managers headaches as four out of five public sector employees ignore the security policies laid out. IT managers' security headaches include: workers opening unknown emails (89 per cent), connecting third party devices to the network (76 per cent), downloading questionable Web content (71 per cent) and using unencrypted mobile devices (58 per cent). As such, 82 per cent of public sector IT managers feel undervalued.

Tom de Jongh, product manager, SafeBoot said: "The public sector receives a bad press for its IT security with numerous high profile data leakage cases, such as HMRC. This is clearly not the IT department's fault - they are faring well compared to other sectors, but their employees are letting the side down. Despite good communication methods, the severity of security and data leakage is not getting through and IT managers are feeling the strain. More education needs to be done."

93 per cent of IT managers feel that the transporting of unencrypted data on mobile devices presented a threat. Of the sectors surveyed, the public sector prioritised this the most* indicating that IT managers understand the potential threats caused by weak end-points, but this is not translating to the employees. With a quarter of workers not taking security seriously, it comes as no surprise that IT managers are so concerned.

De Jongh concluded: "These findings are worrying given the sensitive information the government holds on each and every one of us. Human ignorance is still playing a huge role in placing data at risk and its little wonder that the IT managers feel unloved and undervalued. Today, information is power and the price placed on data is immeasurable. Employees need to show a little more respect and common sense, and businesses need to mitigate the risk by deploying proactive security measures such as data encryption. This would give workers no choice but to be secure."

Other findings from the survey included:.

* 57 per cent of public organisations spend less than 10 per cent of their IT budget on security, showing their prudence.
* Ignorance is cited as the biggest reason workers ignore security policies (51 per cent).
* Almost 90 per cent of public sector workers still open emails from unknown sources, showing them as the worst offenders in the SafeBoot survey.
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