Companies are becoming increasingly aware of the need to have information security policies in place – with seven out of eight large businesses now claiming to have one.
However, experts warn that the high priority given to information security by companies does not necessarily translate into improved security awareness among employees.
Increasingly, companies are realising that to tighten up further on information security, they have to change their people's behaviour.
These are among the early findings of the 2008 Information Security Breaches Survey (ISBS) carried out by a consortium, led by Pricewaterhouse Coopers, on behalf of the Department for Business, Enterprise & Regulatory Reform (BERR).
The survey shows that companies are placing greater trust in their staff and they want them to use technology to improve their effectiveness.
For example, 54 per cent of UK companies now allow staff to access their systems remotely, up from 36 per cent in 2006.
Every very large business gives remote access to at least some staff, while the proportion of businesses restricting internet access to some staff only has nearly halved, from 42 per cent to 24 per cent. Only nine per cent give no staff access to the internet.
At the same time, the survey shows that staff are increasingly targeted by social engineering attacks, where outsiders try to obtain confidential information from employees.
In addition, businesses are becoming increasingly concerned about what is being said about them on social networking sites such as MySpace, Facebook and Bebo. Some staff have posted confidential information on these sites.
Against this background, companies are hardening their technical controls:
* Use of strong authentication has nearly doubled since 2006. Fourteen per cent of small businesses and 53 per cent of large companies now use strong authentication for some of their systems.
* Two-thirds of companies that allow staff to access their systems remotely require additional authentication over that access. Virtual Private Network (VPN) use is almost universal among very large businesses for remote access.
* Eighty one per cent of large companies block access to 'inappropriate websites' and 86 per cent log and monitor staff access to the internet.
However, technology controls alone are not enough. Key to making sure that staff remain the organisation's greatest asset is to ensure they behave in a security-conscious way. Increasingly, companies are focused on setting clear policies, making staff aware of the policies and then monitoring behaviour to ensure that it is in line with those policies.
According to the ISBS report, the proportion of companies that have an information security policy has quadrupled over the last eight years.
Large businesses remain more likely to have a security policy; seven out of eight do so, and some of the 12 per cent that do not have a security policy per se have an integrated overall set of business policies that include information security.
Some 68 per cent of companies surveyed that give a high or very high priority to security have a security policy, up from 55 per cent in 2006 when the last ISBS was conducted, compared with 64 per cent of those that treat security as low or no priority, up massively from 13 per cent in 2006.
The report also says that there is some correlation between how clearly senior management
understands security issues and whether a security policy is in place.
However, even where senior management has a very poor understanding, 56 per cent of those businesses have a security policy.
The biggest correlation is between security policy and risk assessment; companies that carry out risk assessment are nearly twice as likely to have a security policy in place as those that do not.
Security awareness is not just an issue for a company's staff.
Nearly two-thirds of very large companies would welcome more education for the general public about information security risks.
Chris Potter, partner, PricewaterhouseCoopers, who led the survey, said: "Of course, having a security policy alone does not magically improve security awareness among staff.
"The overwhelming majority of companies take steps to raise awareness. The priority given by senior management makes a difference in the extent to which security awareness is drilled into all areas of the organisation.
"Only one in five companies for whom security is not a priority at all takes any steps to raise the security awareness of their staff.
"What companies are realising is that increasing security awareness is only part of the answer. The critical issue is changing the behaviour of their people.
"A 'click mentality' has grown up – users do what expedites their activity rather than what they know they ought to. It is a bit like the road speed limit – everyone knows what they ought to do, but only a few actually do it. Only when behaviour changes do businesses realise the benefits of a security-aware culture."
Martin Smith, chairman and founder of Security Company (International), which focuses on promoting long term behavioural change across all levels of organisations, added: "Traditionally, where organisations have attempted to improve employee awareness they have used a combination of computer-based training and face-to-face presentations to get security messages across.
"But these methods are somewhat transient – much more collaborative and longer-lasting programmes are needed. Genuine behaviour change is essential, and this takes time and effort."
* The full results of the survey will be released at Infosecurity Europe in London from April 22 to 24. www.infosec.co.uk