Edward Snowden’s data leakage at the NSA has certainly caused a ripple effect across the entire IT landscape, forcing organizations across all industries to take a closer look at their current security defenses. At the McAfee FOCUS conference in October this year, we conducted a survey to examine just how closely security professionals were rethinking their approaches to security as a result of the NSA incident. And just as important – if not more – was determining how many of those professionals were actually converting these attitudes to action.

What we found was quite troubling. Despite significant concern around inside security breaches, the majority of security professionals continue to lag when it comes to controlling privileged access in their IT environment.

Of the 348 survey participants, 52 percent said that the Edward Snowden affair has heightened concerns around users and system admins with excess privileges, yet 73 percent admitted that their privilege management policies remain unchanged.

Clearly, there is a difference between organizations' awareness of security threats and how far up the priority list they place. This was also evidenced by another finding: More than half of respondents claimed their organizations’ system admins pose a moderate to high risk to the network, yet only 20 percent were aware of how many are currently running with admin rights.

We also asked what is considered to be the most important security threat in the organization. While 33 percent of respondents said rogue employees were the greatest cause for concern, 40 percent pointed to malware as the key vulnerability.

The good news coming out of this survey is that we're now at a turning point when it comes to our mentality around IT security, with an increased awareness of how sophisticated attacks can stem from users with excess privileges. But the IT department will have to make a stronger push to turn mere awareness into reality.

Implementing more proactive defense-in-depth security measures, including a vital layer of privilege management and application control, is the first step in the right direction. Adopting this approach will allow organizations to significantly reduce the risk of malware and insider threat attacks, and regain control.

For more information on the survey findings, read the full press release.