TELUS and the Rotman School of Management at The University of Toronto today released the fifth annual study on Canadian IT Security. Taking a qualitative approach for the first time, the research team interviewed security leaders from across the country in a variety of industries to capture personalized insight about the security issues that keep them up at night.

“This year, we felt it was critical to validate our quantitative findings from previous years with qualitative insights,” said Dr. Walid Hejazi, professor of Business Economics, Rotman School of Management. “We wanted to provide Canadian security leaders with access to real life experiences, best practices and strategies used by their peers.”

Four key security-related concerns were revealed during the roundtable discussions and interviews:

Has my organization been breached, and I don’t know about it?

How will a breach affect my brand?

What are my employees doing with corporate data?

How do I retain my security resources?

In exploring these four concerns, several insights emerged:

A pervasive sense of vulnerability: Most Canadian security leaders believe that a security breach is inevitable and lack confidence in their organizations’ ability to detect the breach and mitigate possible damage.

People are the weakest link: Whether a result of ignorance or malicious intent, people pose the greatest risk to Canadian enterprise security, elevating the importance of awareness and education.

“Yes” organizations are more secure than “no” organizations: Organizations that work with employees to adopt innovation or new technology responsibly (“yes” organizations) are more secure than organizations that limit innovation adoption with rigid IT security controls (“no” organizations). “No” organizations tend to operate with a false sense of security because employees often circumvent controls to access technologies they deem critical to productivity leaving the organization unaware and at risk.

“It is critical that organizations remain open to new technologies so employees are empowered with the tools to increase productivity,” said Hernan Barros, director, TELUS Security Solutions. “Equally important however, is that organizations ensure employees understand how to use new tools responsibly, and that adherence to security policy is made convenient and simple. Ongoing security awareness training can help ensure compliance.”

In response to the qualitative findings, and in an effort to help Canadian organizations achieve a balanced level of security, Rotman and TELUS’ team of security experts offer five recommendations:

Don’t assume you haven’t been breached. Simply because your organization has not detected a security breach, does not mean you have not been breached at any point in time or that the breach is no longer being perpetrated.

Security diligence must be ongoing. Security is not a onetime effort. Given the significant pace of technological innovation that affects the security of information systems, IT security managers have to keep up with how these innovations impact the risk profile of the organization and respond appropriately. In essence, security must be built in to every aspect of IT, business practices/processes and employee awareness.

Compliance is not the same as security. Meeting minimum required standards should be viewed as exactly that, the minimum required. Security should be a consideration throughout the lifecycle of every project from business drivers to the technology implementation and management.

Organizations should work to be “yes” organizations. “Yes” organizations are open to new technologies and are constantly creating discourse with employees about balancing security responsibly with the business value innovation can bring. These organizations recognize the criticality of security when embracing any new technology and are integrating strategy, policy, awareness, education and buy-in into their processes.

Awareness training is key. Security is only as good as its weakest link, which often comes down to people. As a result, awareness training must be consistent and relevant to new innovations and threats, and IT security managers need to figure out how to reach employees most effectively.