75 Percent of DOD Contractors Upped IT Security After Snowden

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A survey finds firms restricting access and increasing education after the Snowden leaks. By Aliya Sternstein

Leaks of national secrets by former federal contractor Edward Snowden drove 75 percent of U.S. defense company executives to adjust information security procedures, mostly by increasing employee training and going on high alert for deviant behavior, according to a new study.

The poll of information technology managers was conducted last month by market research firm Opinion Matters on behalf of consultancy ThreatTrack.

Most of the 100 contractors surveyed are taking a manual approach to the crackdown on data seepage, rather than using automated mechanisms to block personnel from disclosing information, according to the study’s data points.

Among businesses with an IT budget of more than $10 million, 44 percent are restricting user access. Of the firms storing or accessing confidential information for the government, 34 percent have scaled back system administrator privileges. Sixty percent of the companies in those same two categories are subjecting employees to more cyber awareness education.

The Snowden affair has had a profound impact on how defense contractors hire and train employees who handle sensitive information,” the study’s authors report.

Other network security analysts have suggested that, within the government, federal executives should rely on both human and machine oversight to prevent inside information from escaping.

Agencies should use “fine-grained access controls,” Eric Chiu, president of HyTrust, a firm that helps organizations protect data, said in October. For example, they could implement a two-person procedure to prevent system administrators from accessing key information without another authorized individual present, “as well as role-based monitoring to detect what your administrators are doing versus what they should be doing,” he said.

After Snowden’s escapades, about 80 percent of contractors with limited finances reviewed or re-evaluated employee data access privileges. “The Snowden leaks have had a stronger impact on companies with smaller IT security budgets, while contractors with budgets of $1 million or more reported fewer changes,” the ThreatTrack study’s authors found. “This is likely because companies with bigger budgets, and therefore more resources, may already feel they have the tools and policies they need, notwithstanding their fears about malware volume and complexity.”

About 63 percent of the firms sampled indicated they held security clearances, with 18 percent holding “top secret” clearances like the credentials Snowden obtained. 

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