Cybercrime: The 2009 megathreat

The 2009 Security Mega Trends Survey was conducted by Ponemon Institute and sponsored by Lumension Security Inc. to better understand if certain publicized IT risks to personal and confidential data are, or should be, more or less of a concern for companies. We asked 577 IT security practitioners to consider how 10 security megatrends affect companies today and to predict their impact during the next 12 to 24 months. The opinions of these experts, we believe, will be helpful to companies that are struggling to understand how they should allocate resources to the protection of data during these difficult economic times.

We selected the following megatrends for this study based on input from a panel of experts in IT security. They are cloud computing, virtualization, mobility and mobile devices, cybercrime, outsourcing to third parties, data breaches and the risk of identity theft, peer-to-peer file sharing, and Web 2.0.

The study examined the risks posed by megatrends that exist today and how the risk will change over the next 12 to 24 months. According to an overwhelming 77% of experts in IT security responding to our survey, cybercrime will become a "high" or "very high" risk over the next 12 to 24 months.

The selection of cybercrime as the megatrend most likely to be a high or very high risk in the next 12 to 24 months can be partly based on the fact that 92% of respondents to our study reported that their companies have experienced a cyberattack. The biggest security risk associated with cybercrime is that such an attack will cause a business interruption followed by the theft of customer and employee data.

Other megatrends becoming more risky are cloud computing, malware, Web 2.0 and mobile devices. In the case of cloud computing, it is the inability to assess or verify the security of data centers in the cloud and protect sensitive and confidential information. IT security practitioners see the risk of malware and Web 2.0 as resulting in the loss of sensitive or confidential business information including trade secrets.

It is interesting to note that in our study, IT security respondents perceive the risk of a mobile workforce as decreasing but mobile devices remaining a high or very high risk for many companies. According to respondents, the most risky mobile device is the laptop computer, and the No. 1 concern is the inability to properly identify and authenticate remote users.

Data Breaches and Outsourcing Risks Continue

Data breaches and outsourcing are forecast to remain at the same level of risk. IT security practitioners continue to worry about data breaches because, according to our study, only 16% are very confident or confident that current security practices are able to prevent customer and employee data from being lost or stolen. Therefore, it is understandable why the majority of respondents in IT security believe that data breaches will continue to pose a high and very high security threat to their organizations.

Because IT security professionals don't see the outsourcing of sensitive and confidential information to third parties as decreasing, it will remain a serious risk to an organizations' information assets. The concern expressed by IT security practitioners in our study is about the difficulty in protecting sensitive or confidential information when unauthorized parties might be able to access private files.

Certain Risks Are Considered More Manageable

Becoming less of a concern are risks associated with a mobile workforce, virtualization and peer-to-peer file sharing. Although it seems that the mobile workforce will pose less of a risk, respondents believe the most significant security threat is the inability to properly identify and authenticate remote users. With respect to P2P, it is the concern that inadvertent transfers and disclosures of documents that reside on an organization's computers and laptops will occur. The most significant risk associated with virtualization technology is the inability to properly identify and authenticate users to multiple systems and to prevent third-party access to private files without authorization.

Organizations are faced with a plethora of security threats to their confidential and sensitive data assets. Forecasting the areas that pose the highest risk will help companies create an IT security strategy that is as cost-effective as possible in times of tightening budgets.

Larry Ponemon is the chairman and founder of The Ponemon Institute. For a copy of the 2009 Security Mega Trends Survey report, please contact

This story, "Cybercrime: The 2009 megathreat" was originally published by CSO.

Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.

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