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Charles Barley, Jr.

Ernst & Young (E&Y) has conducted its eighth annual Global Information Security Survey (GISS) to uncover the security and privacy vulnerabilities in companies, including phishing, identity theft, SQL injections and basic social engineering. The survey uncovered a gap that continues to widen between the operational capabilities and compliance risks facing companies, and sought to understand the current actions taken by their information security organizations.

This is the first year that we have seen compliance concerns trump the more tactical threats, such as viruses, worms and vulnerability management. Compliance with privacy is second only to the internal controls requirements of the Sarbanes-Oxley rules and similar European regulations. Privacy professionals should review these findings and understand the challenges facing their information security colleagues. The challenges are manifesting themselves in organizations where the sheer weight of privacy compliance obligations is outpacing the delivery capabilities of privacy teams.

The Background

This eighth edition of the Global Information Security Survey was conducted across a global landscape in which organizations find themselves vulnerable to growing risks, brought on by rapid changes in the business environment and requirements to stay competitive. These changes are expected to accelerate in the coming years. The gap continues to widen between the risk and what the information security professional does to address it. Many of the survey respondents recognized that gap. But it now becomes imperative to take action to remediate the challenges.

In developing this GISS report, E&Y surveyed executives with operational responsibilities — IT managers, Directors of Operations, Chief Technology Officers, Chief Information Officers and the Chief Information Security Officers — from more than 1,300 organizations in 55 countries from around the world. Those individuals answered questions regarding their key drivers for information security and what actions they have taken in response to these needs.

Based on the analysis of the responses, E&Y observed four key areas where the widening gap is clearly evident, which transcended all of the organizations regardless of size or industry.

The Gap Exposed

The Paradox of Compliance
The sheer number of regulations and the consequences of not complying with them have brought information security into the boardroom. Yet many organizations are missing the rare investment opportunities that compliance offers to promote information security as an integral part of their business. The integration of information security into business has become large in part due to the Sarbanes—Oxley Act within the U.S. and various international regulations abroad — all with a consistent message of enhancing internal controls. Second to Sarbanes-Oxley internal controls compliance are the compliance objectives of the various privacy and data protection laws, regulations, and contractual obligations proliferating at both national and state/provincial levels. 

Growing Global Interdependency
With even more information flowing among companies, all organizations, whether global or not, need to consider their business partners, outsourcing arrangements, suppliers and customers. Each group needs to be confident with the others' information security. However, many organizations are not taking the required measures to obtain this assurance. Nearly 60 percent of the survey respondents have instituted little to no formal procedures regarding vendor-risk management. However, all of the companies agree more formal procedures and evaluations are necessary. 

Business Demands Pushing the Adoption of Emerging Technologies
Organizations are continually seeking more productive and competitive ways of working, which are driving the proliferation of rapidly developing technologies. These technologies bring with them serious threats that the company often has not fully addressed in the right manner or timeframe. Half of the survey respondents recognize the significant information security concerns of emerging mobile technologies. However, among other rapidly developing technologies, the level of concern and risk mitigation drops off significantly. Those top technologies include items such as wireless networks, voice-over IP, removable media and open source platforms.

Organizational Alignment and Delivery
Opportunities exist for information security to make significant contributions to organizations' strategic initiatives through proper organizational alignment and delivery. Yet most organizations continue to concentrate their information security activities on operational and tactical issues at the expense of addressing strategic concerns. More than 60 percent of the survey respondents have been successful at constructing a formal information security role. However, fewer that 3 out of 4 of them have taken the leap to begin to integrate information security into the organization's overall risk management and business objectives.

Again, it is important to note that each of the four key areas is consistent across the participating organizations, regardless of size, industry or geography. The challenge will be to define an effective security posture, aligned with the business objectives. When a company achieves that synergy, they will begin to close the gap.

A Step in the Right Direction — Closing the Gap
Even though many organizations recognize the widening gap between growing risks and what steps information security are taking to address them, companies must take action by applying sound information security practices. As a result, key risks will be more effectively mitigated and information security will become more of a strategic capability.


Charles Barley, Jr., CIPP, CISA, CSGA, is with Ernst & Young's Technology & Security Risk Services (TSRS) practice in Mclean, VA. He focuses on information privacy audit, information security and internal controls. He may be reached at charles.barleyjr@ey.com.


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