The Ponemon Institute published a recent study that evaluated the way end users and security teams approach IT security policy. The study analyzed input from 1,371 users and 1,656 security professionals in various industries located in the U.K., U.S., France and Germany.

A Widening Gap

The report found a gap between end users and IT pros that has only widened over time. Specifically, 35 percent of end users said their organizations enforce their own internal data security policies, while 52 percent of IT pros believe those same data security policies are being enforced.

Not only that, but 61 percent of the respondents working in IT or security roles viewed the protection of critical company information as a “very high” or “high” priority. This greatly differs from what the study found in end users’ attitudes: Only 38 percent of end users considered it a high or very high priority to protect this kind of data. This seems to suggest that many end users lack a sense of awareness about data and its value.

Productivity Trumps IT Security Policy

Interestingly, productivity enters into the enterprise security equation. The Ponemon Institute study found that 38 percent of IT practitioners, as well as 48 percent of end users, felt that their companies would allow some sort of additional risk to the security of corporate data for the benefit of productivity.

Looking at specific data security policies, 39 percent of end users said they had taken all appropriate steps to protect the company data that they use within the course of their jobs. On the other hand, 52 percent of IT practitioners said employees in their organizations take the appropriate steps to protect this type of data.

An Alarming Decline

“At a time when one would expect general improvement in end-user hygiene due to increased awareness of cyberattacks and security breaches, this survey instead found an alarming decline in both practices and attitudes,” said Dr. Larry Ponemon, chairman and founder of the Ponemon Institute, as quoted by SC Magazine.

Sometimes, the very policies that should address a problem may exacerbate it. If the users and the IT folk feel so differently about the effects of security policies, it may be time to take a long hard look at how current policies are implemented and what can be changed to increase both user awareness and compliance.

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