Security executives have admitted that their companies do not have plans to cope with the effect of an unconventional terrorist attack, even though most believe that a terrorist attack of some kind is likely in the coming months, according to a poll.
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US title CSO magazine surveyed 476 chief security officers (CSOs) and senior security executives, and found that 60% believe that a terrorist attack is likely in Boston or New York.
While 63% of CSOs say their companies have planned for such attacks if conventional means, such as bombings or hostage taking, are used, 61% say that they have not planned for unconventional attacks using chemical, biological or nuclear weapons.
The online survey of CSO subscribers was conducted between 27 April and 18 May, and has a 4.5% margin of error. The subscribers were asked their opinions on a number of issues, including terrorism, politics, information technology security policy and purchasing decisions.
The CSOs' concerns about terrorism probably mirror general concern in the US about terrorist attacks. However, about half of CSOs have backgrounds in law enforcement and most of those still maintain contact with former colleagues, which may give them an inside line on possible threats, said CSO editor-in-chief Lew McCreary.
While planning for unconventional terrorist attacks is rare, the CSOs reported much better preparation for more common threats such as cyberattacks, natural disasters and violent employees.
Ninety-four per cent of those surveyed have contingency plans in place for natural disasters and 86% for cyberattacks. Eighty per cent said their companies are prepared for attacks from violent employees or former employees.
The survey did show that companies are quick to slam the door on former employees. Seventy-four per cent of those surveyed block network access to e-mail and critical documents within one business day of employees being fired or leaving a company and 81% block physical access within one business day.
The theft of intellectual property or other proprietary information is a top concern of CSOs, with 91% of those surveyed saying that managing access to critical information and documents was either "extremely important" or "very important".
The study also showed those concerns are often well placed. Fifteen per cent said that their employer lost or had critical documents or corporate information copied without authorisation in the past year. Almost a quarter of those responding said they could not be sure whether such losses had occurred at their company.
However, concerns about the theft of proprietary information are not influencing decisions about what security products to buy. Only 11% of CSOs surveyed said that the theft of intellectual property was the primary factor in security spending, which averaged $16.6m a year for those surveyed. Instead, the desire to comply with government regulations is a bigger motivator for CSOs, with 49% citing "issues related to regulatory compliance" as the prime reason behind their security purchases.
Companies need to have policies and processes in place that protect their most important assets and ensure the safety and welfare of their employees, McCreary said. Among other things, organisations shown to have ignored the interests of either shareholders or employees in the wake of a disaster could be held liable for losses and damage.
Clearly articulated policies and procedures for emergencies and frequent exercises that reinforce those procedures are a good place to start, he adde, but companies also need to weigh the costs and benefits of any plans to guard against attacks, including those using weapons of mass destruction.
"Companies can't go crazy worrying about the likelihood of a terrorist event if the cost of remediating such an event is going to be prohibitive," he said.
Paul Roberts writes for IDG News Service