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Survey: Remote offices, workers get short end of security stick

Sophos polled 3,000 IT administrators and learned that most do not update antivirus signatures for remote offices and telecommuters as often as they do for office-based systems.

Supporting telecommuters' systems and roving laptops can be a security nightmare, most administrators concede. A recent vendor survey backs that theory up; it determined that most companies are not keeping up with antivirus protection for remote systems.

U.K.-based Sophos LPC said 70% of the 3,000 IT systems administrators it polled were updating remote office and telecommuter antivirus signature files once a week or less. More than half of those people said they only update on a monthly basis.

Generally, it's considered a best practice to update signature files on a daily basis to protect against the most current threats, Sophos said. Companies failing to update daily are susceptible to new virus and worm attacks and expose their corporate data, assets and reputation. On the other hand, Sophos said, 66% of companies are updating office-based systems daily.

Sophos' results highlight a dichotomy between office-based systems and remote systems. Often, laptop users on the road have to fend for themselves when it comes to maintaining their systems. For example, the onus for updating antivirus often falls into their hands, said Chris Belthoff, senior product marketing manager at Sophos. "That really isn't fair, as these people aren't system administrators," he said.

Remote systems are also susceptible to a different set of threats than internal systems. Telecommuters are much more likely to check their personal Web-based e-mail or use file-swapping programs than people in the office, Belthoff said. By both avenues, viruses and worms can slip through. Home-based and public wireless networks also expose remote users to threats. In these cases, home users don't have the high-power protection of firewalls and intrusion-detection systems (IDS) that they would have if working in the office.

This set of risks makes it imperative for remote users to have updated antivirus, Belthoff said, noting there are products available that allow companies to do automatic updates for remote systems. "Remember, you are only as safe as your last update," he said.

FOR MORE INFORMATION: news exclusive: "Users pine for speedier virus signatures from vendors" news exclusive: "Virus management - never a dull moment" news exclusive: "Application-layer security and the virus fight"

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