Conducted by InsightExpress, a US -based market research firm, the study was commissioned by Cisco to examine security and data leakage (www.cisco.com/go/dlp) implications for businesses at a time when employee lifestyles and work environments are changing dramatically.
As the reliance on centralized offices shifts to distributed business models and remote workforces, lines are blurring between work life and personal life.
This operational shift for businesses and the lifestyle overlap for employees are driven in large part by the proliferation of collaborative devices and applications that are used for both purposes, including mobile phones, laptops, Web 2.0 applications, video and other social media.
This evolving business environment serves as a backdrop for the study, which surveyed 1,000 employees and 1,000 IT professionals from various industries and company sizes in 10 countries: the United States, United Kingdom, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, China, India, Australia, and Brazil.
The countries were chosen because they represent a diverse set of social and business cultures, established and emerging network-dependent economies and varied levels of Internet adoption.
"We conducted this research in order to understand behaviour, not technology per se," said John N. Stewart, chief security officer of Cisco.
"Security is ultimately rooted in users behavior, so businesses of all sizes and employees in all professions need to understand how behavior affects the risk and reality of data loss - and what that ultimately means for both the individual and enterprise. Understanding this can help strengthen relationships between IT and employees, tailor localized awareness and education programs, and better manage risk. Simply put, security practices can be more effective when all users realize what their actions result in," Stewart added.
Of the many behavioral findings, some were:
1. Altering security settings on computers: One of five employees altered security settings on work devices to bypass IT policy so they could access unauthorized Web sites. This was most common in emerging economies like China and India. When asked why, more than half (52 percent) said they simply wanted to access the site; a third said, "it's no one's business" which sites they access.
2. Use of unauthorized applications: Seven of 10 IT professionals said employee access of unauthorized applications and Web sites (e.g. unsanctioned social media, music download software, online shopping venues) ultimately resulted in as many as half of their companies' data loss incidents. This belief was most common in countries like the United States (74 percent) and India (79 percent).
3. Unauthorized network/facility access: In the past year, two of five IT pros dealt with employees accessing unauthorized parts of a network or facility. This was most prevalent in China, where almost two of three respondents encountered this issue. Of those who reported this issue globally, two-thirds encountered multiple incidents in the past year, and 14 percent encountered this issue monthly.
"Businesses are enabling employees to become increasingly collaborative and mobile," Stewart said.
"Without modern-day security technologies, policies, awareness and education, information is more vulnerable. Today, data is in transit, in use, within programs, stored on devices, and in places beyond the traditional business environment, such as at home, on the road, in cafes, on airplanes and trains. This trend is here to stay. To protect your data effectively, we need to start understanding the risk characteristics of business and then base technology, policy, and awareness and education plans on those factors," added Stewart.
Stewart said these behavioral findings can help companies structure employee education programs at a regional level and sculpt global risk management plans.