Every year for the past nine years, the Computer Security Institute and the FBI undertake a computer crime and security survey among companies and institutions in the US. These surveys provide interesting insights into the level of computer crime being experienced by companies, as well as how they are responding to security breaches.
Computer security has evolved from being purely the domain of IT resources to the point now where even the board of a company take an interest. This growing concern about security has come about as the internet has emerged to be a ubiquitous business tool. When the CSI and FBI started performing this survey in the mid-1990s, computer security concerns largely centred on technical issues such as encryption, access controls and intrusion detection systems.
By 2004, the ninth annual survey indicates that companies are becoming more concerned with the economic, financial and risk management aspects of computer security in addition to the purely technical aspects. This indicates the greater importance that is being placed on security by senior management in organisations.
Overall, the 2004 survey indicates that the frequency of successful attacks against corporate information systems is decreasing - and has been in steady decline since 2001. In fact, only 53 per cent of respondents indicated that they had experienced unauthorised use of their computational systems in the past year, which is the lowest level since 1999. Over the past year, there has been a dramatic drop in reports of system penetration, insider abuse and theft of intellectual property.
Across respondents, there was also a fairly even split between reports of breaches coming from inside and outside of the organisation. This is a substantial change from last year's survey, when 80 per cent of respondents reported insider abuse of networks to be the most common form of attack or abuse and indicates that security implementations are having some level of success in stopping these attacks.
Even though 99 per cent of organisations surveyed are using anti-virus technology, virus attacks were cited as the most common form of security incident, affecting 78 per cent of respondents. Further, virus attacks are contributing the most in terms of financial loss stemming from security incidents owing to the emerging threat of virus attacks being combined with denial of service attacks - costing companies more than double in monetary terms than any other type of security breach reported.
The next most costly forms of attack are theft of proprietary information, insider abuse of networks and the newly emerging threats of abuse of wireless networks. After virus attacks, insider abuse of networks was cited as the second most common form of security incident, reported by 59 per cent of organisations, followed by laptop or mobile phone theft, which affected 49 per cent of the survey sample.
For the first time, the survey asked respondents whether or not they conduct security audits of their information networks to look for vulnerabilities in a proactive manner. Whilst 82 per cent of respondents indicated that they do conduct such audits, that still leaves a sizeable 18 per cent of organisations that do not conduct this exercise - one of the most fundamental aspects of boosting the security of organisations.
One further new area was examined in the 2004 computer crime and security survey - that of the impact of regulation, specifically Sarbanes-Oxley, on the information security activities of companies. Corporate governance has been on the lips of corporate executives for the past year, and high-profile court cases have begun to hand out strict jail terms for transgressors. But, surprisingly, only among executives from the financial services, utilities and telecommunication industries did the majority state that Sarbanes-Oxley had affected their information security activities.
In contrast, most of the respondents from other industry sectors did not agree that Sarbanes-Oxley had raised the level of interest in information security in their organisations or had shifted the focus from technology to corporate governance. It is my bet that this is a situation that will change dramatically over the coming year.