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Access control problems highlighted

Remote workers becoming less disciplined.

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Two security surveys this week on network access control have reached similar conclusions: staff have too much access rights, and management should rein in out-of-control access without sacrificing productivity gains.

Research firm Ponemon Institute released on Tuesday the results of its "2008 National Survey on Access Governance," which polled 700 IT practitioners from business and government on the topic of how organisations determine who should have access to information resources and the appropriate level of access.

Ponemon found that 52 percent of the IT professionals surveyed did not believe access rights are well-managed in their organisation, and 78 percent thought employees often, or on occasion, had "too much access to information resources not pertinent with their job function." 19 percent simply said they were unsure.

The survey, which was sponsored by security governance vendor Aveska, suggests that "People are getting too much access to things," says Larry Ponemon, the Institute's founder. "The No. 1 issue is that we have a problem in that organisations that claim to manage roles and responsibilities may not be doing so."

In the survey, respondents acknowledged the risk to intellectual property, customer information and general business information from poorly managed access. The study also sought to shed some light on why organisations are struggling with the access governance problem.

The decision-making process varies considerably. Twenty-nine percent said access to information assets is granted on an "ad hoc" basis for certain projects, 25 percent said it was to meet "departmental demands," and 21 percent cited "job function or role," while 10 percent acknowledged "no systematic approach" and 8 percent thought it was according to "position level or rank."

As to technology use, 36 percent said they used "homegrown access control systems," 30 percent said "automated solutions," 13 percent cited a "a manual process," 5 percent said "email requests" and 7 percent answered "helpdesk."

The Ponemon Institute study concluded "taken together, our findings indicate that the distributed nature of the organisation has resulted in a breakdown in centralised policy management."

Ponemon's study stated it was hard to pinpoint accountability for granting access and too frequently there was no review of what employees' jobs require them to do over time.

Meanwhile, a separate survey this week of 2,000 remote workers and IT professionals worldwide conducted by InsightExpress and sponsored by Cisco showed employees are often left to their own devices - and are enjoying it.

The survey found 56 percent of remote workers felt that the Internet is safer than it was last year, but 55 percent of IT staff said they thought remote employees working outside the office are becoming less aware and disciplined in their online behaviour.

The survey showed corporate computers are frequently used for shopping and social networking while the individual's home computer, not under management of the IT department, is often used to access work files.

Twelve percent of remote workers admitted to hijacking a neighbour's wireless connections, with workers in Japan, France, China and United Kingdom confessing to stealing wireless access the most. China, the United Kingdom, Japan, Australia and the United States had the highest percentages of respondents who admitted they open suspicious email and attachments despite the potential for triggering malware attacks.

Issues with remote workers are coming to the fore because "companies are becoming highly decentralised," comments Tom Gillis, vice president of marketing in Cisco's IronPort unit. "There's a blurring line between business and personal use here."



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