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Zero-day threats top concern for IT security staff

New survey finds that over half of security professionals rate zero-day vulnerabilities as major cause for concern.

Zero-day vulnerabilities are more of a concern for IT professionals than the threat of hacking, according to a new study.

The survey of 250 chief security officers, IT managers and network administrators in Europe, Asia and the US found that 54 per cent rate zero-day vulnerabilities as their top security concern. Hackers were cited by 35 per cent as a major security risk to organisations.

The research, conducted by patch management company Patchlink, also found that malware and spyware were a concern for 34 per cent of respondents.

Analysts said that zero-day attacks troubled organisations of all sizes.

"Today's financially motivated attackers are creating customised, sophisticated malware designed to exploit unpublished application vulnerabilities in specific applications before they can be fixed," said Charles Kolodgy, research director at IDC.

He added that the problem is compounded by the ever-present human element. "User behaviour is difficult to control, and many hackers rely on users' lapses in judgment to carry out their malicious activity," said Kolodgy. "They also prey on the fact that many IT departments are spread thin and simply do not have the resources necessary to proactively defend against zero-day threats.""

The survey found that faster remediation of flaws and assessment of risks posed by these threats would fix these problems faster. IT managers reacted quicker to threats by applying emergency patches than they did last year. Some 29 per cent of organisations deployed critical updates within two hours during 2007, compared to just 14 per cent in 2006. An overwhelming majority (99 per cent) of respondents said their companies were as secure or more secure than last year.

The shrinking time between a vulnerability appearing and malware created to exploit it and the inability to control user behaviour are the most significant challenges to fighting zero-day threats, according to the survey.

Respondents said they were using an increased amount of security products to gain control of the user environment and spent a lot of time monitoring and setting security policies. Half of respondents said they used 10 or more agents to run security and operations tasks, two-thirds said they spent an hour or more a day on monitoring security consoles and updating policies.

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