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Last Updated: Tuesday, 15 March, 2005, 09:14 GMT
Stress afflicts security bosses
Aspirin tablets, Eyewire
Looking after a computer network is very stressful
Keeping computer viruses at bay is more stressful than divorce, warns a survey.

The research revealed how European technology bosses were coping with the growing number of hi-tech threats.

Although many firms had software in place to combat viruses, spam and phishing, it found few adequately protected against all threats.

The survey also revealed that many tech bosses would face dismissal if they let their firm fall victim to a serious security breach.

Missing link

The research questioned technology managers at 500 European firms to see how confident they were in the systems they used to keep a whole variety of hi-tech threats at bay.

In the last 18 months the number of malicious threats to companies and employees has risen sharply as viruses proliferate, phishing gangs target online banks and spyware makers pump out fresh versions of their programs.

In contrast to the situation only a few years ago many of the malicious programs created recently have been done so for explicitly criminal ends.

But despite the surge in malicious threats and their severity the research found that 91% of technology bosses thought that their security systems were complete or good at keeping staff safe.

Warning label on computer equipment, Eyewire
Security bosses are not protecting against some threats
However, the research found that many firms had no systems in place to defend against some of the most common security problems - suggesting that confidence in protection systems was misplaced.

For instance, only 30% of those questioned have tools in place to stop employees hacking into internal systems, to combat use of peer-to-peer programs in the workplace or to stop confidential documents leaking from the organisation.

"They feel secure because they are not looking for these threats and so not finding them," said Mark Murtagh, technical director of security firm Websense which commissioned the research.

Mr Murtagh said research with one customer showed that the threat from malicious code was real.

Monitoring of a network serving 25,000 web-using employees found that, over a three-week period, more than one gigabyte of data was spirited out of the company by spyware.

In the same time period 415 employees clicked on phishing e-mails that were trying to steal confidential information.

Although tech staff were misguided about the efficacy of their security software, most of those questioned, 72%, thought that if they let their firm fall victim their job would be on the line.

About 20% of those questioned said the stress of protecting their employer was worse than getting married, moving house or separating from a partner.

Many firms had few protections in place to ensure that laptops used by staff while out of the office stayed free of viruses, spyware and other malicious programs.

Many technology directors believed that the responsibility for protecting a laptop lay with the staff member using it.

"This suggests that workers have to be as educated about technology as managers, which is not very realistic," said Mr Murtagh.

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