European mid-size businesses unprepared for data security risks, study says

Most companies treat data protection as an IT issue and ignore employee-related information risks, the study says

European mid-size businesses are not doing enough to protect their sensitive data, and need to take employee-related information security threats more seriously, according to a study sponsored by Iron Mountain.

The study was conducted by professional services firm PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) and is based on a survey of 600 mid-sized businesses from 6 European countries -- the UK, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Spain and Hungary.

PwC considered 34 measures that companies should have in place in order to minimize information risks, and scored them in four categories -- strategy, people, communication and security -- for a possible total of 100 points.

On average, the surveyed organizations scored 40.6 points on the index, which is far from desirable. PwC and Iron Mountain believe that 50 would be a minimum acceptable score, said Patrick Keddy, Iron Mountain's senior vice president for Western Europe.

Only 50 percent of businesses considered information risk as one of their top three business risks and only 36 percent of businesses had an information strategy in place, whose effectiveness was properly monitored.

Businesses from Hungary scored the highest -- 45.4 points -- while companies from the UK scored the lowest -- 36. Organizations from the financial services, insurance and pharmaceutical sectors scored above average, while those from the manufacturing and legal sectors scored lowest.

The study found that 59 percent of businesses believe that investing in technology will facilitate data protection and, therefore, treat data security mainly as an IT issue. This ignores the fact that one of the biggest threats to data security stems from employee behavior and the workplace culture, PwC said.

While the surveyed companies generally acknowledged the presence of employee-related threats, in respect to everything from indifference to malicious intent, very few of them were doing anything practical to address these in a realistic manner, Keddy said.

The study found that businesses fared worst when it came to implementing measures in the communication and people categories. These include enforcing an Internet and social media usage policy, conducting employee training in respect to information risk, performing personnel background checks and providing clear guidance on the storage and safe disposal of physical and electronic documents.

As many as 60 percent of organizations were unsure whether their employees had the proper tools to deal with data security risks and a quarter of them did not conduct personnel background checks, the survey found.

The study determined that businesses which scored highest on the index treated information risk as a boardroom issue, had a multi-disciplinary team in charge of information risk and had a balanced information strategy in place.

No company, regardless of business sector or country of origin, scored particularly well in any of the information risk prevention categories identified by the index and that's worrying, Keddy said.

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