From phishing to adult content, many CEOs benefit from analyst cover-ups

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Call it one of IT's dirty little secrets. One of the biggest threats to security in most organizations is the behavior of senior executives, a new study by ThreatTrack Security reveals. The sins include installing malicious applications, allowing family members to use corporate devices and surfing for adult content. And in a majority of cases, the incidents go unreported.

Last month, ThreatTrack commissioned a blind survey of 200 security professionals who are charged with malware analysis, according to a report in Network World. The survey was conducted by Opinion Matters on behalf of ThreatTrack. Readers may know ThreatTrack as the company responsible for the VIPRE anti-virus application.

The survey revealed that:

  • Senior executives carelessly bring in a lot of 'net nasties by clicking on malicious links in email. More than half (56 percent) of malware analysts said they have had to remove malware from an executive's PC because of an infected USB drive or a corrupted smartphone attached to the PC.
  • Not far behind is the damage done by senior executives surfing for online adult content. Approximately 40 percent of malware analysts said they have had to remove malware from their exec's computer after the boss had visited an infected site.
  • Execs also seem to have a hard time grasping corporate policy about ensuring the safety of corporate property.  Nearly half (46 percent) caused problems for malware analysts by letting family members use their company-owned device).

The survey findings were not trivial, and in fact, a majority of malware analysts spend significant time cleaning up after the boss.

As Network World noted, "66 percent of them had to deal with a security incident that later went unreported by the company. Further, the source of the incident can be tracked back to a senior executive within the organization most of the time, and many of the problems could have been avoided."

A key point in the statement above is the fact that security pros are covering up their exec's bad behavior in most cases. In fact, 79 percent of survey respondents said they keep quiet about these distractions to their work schedule. But distractions they certainly are. Performing analysis takes one to two hours for 45 percent of malware analysts, and two to five hours for another 39 percent.

But malware analysts are sitting on more than just the bosses' goofs. They are also failing to disclose outside data breaches in many cases.

"Over 50 percent of the analysts included in the survey claimed that they've investigated or addressed a data breach that the company didn't disclose to customers, partner or stakeholders," PC Magazine reported. "The study revealed that larger companies are three times as likely to not disclose data breaches than smaller ones."

Read more:
- see the Network World article
- see the PC Magazine article

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