'What Are You Doing to Protect My Information?' - Sidney Pearl of Unisys on Consumer Security Concerns

'What Are You Doing to Protect My Information?' - Sidney Pearl of Unisys on Consumer Security Concerns
"Knowledge is the currency of the future," says Sidney Pearl, Global Director of Enterprise Security Solution management for the Unisys Global Financial Services business.

And according to the latest Unisys Security Index, Americans are getting much smarter - and more demanding - about the basic information security they expect from government and businesses.

In an exclusive interview, Pearl discusses:

Results of the latest Unisys Security Index;
The security topics that mean the most to U.S. consumers;
What these findings mean for government agencies and banking institutions.

Pearl's Enterprise Security Solutions Management Group has worldwide responsibility for defining and managing the company's Fraud, Risk Management and Enterprise Security services offerings for the financial industry. Unisys provides Security Business Operations services and solutions to financial services clients in over 40 countries.

TOM FIELD: Hi, this is Tom Field, Editorial Director with Information Security Media Group. We are talking today about the findings of the latest Unisys Security Index, and we are talking with Sidney Pearl, Director of Risk Intelligence of Global Industries with Unisys. Sid, thanks so much for joining me today.

SIDNEY PEARL: Thank you, Tom, for the opportunity.

FIELD: For those that don't know enough about the security index, can you explain a bit about what you do and how frequently you do it?

PEARL: The Unisys Security Index is a biannual review that we do with consumers around the world, but specifically with this particular interview today we are focusing on the Unisys Security Index from the U.S. perspective. But the biannual security index review that we do is looking at it from the consumer's perspective, and we interviewed about 8,500 people in nine different countries, and more than 1,000 Americans responded to this between the timeframe of February 20th to the 22nd of 2009.

FIELD: So what are the key findings from this latest survey?

PEARL: Well, there are various points that we touched on but relating from identity theft to online debit card/credit card fraud, retail transactions, national security versus financial security, a number of different computer virus-related concerns. There was a combination of things that we looked at, and we looked at these primarily from a consumer perspective.

FIELD: What do you find to be the key takeaways I would say for consumers, but particularly of note to people that might be in financial services and government? I mean, one thing I gather from reading your summary is that the economic crisis really has heightened fears for the average consumer.

PEARL: Well, I think that when you look at the response that we got with the index, you see a distinct shift away from national security concerns and/or terrorist related activities, to financial-related concerns. Part of that could be a combination of media and the concerns, and what the media does in producing and promoting that, but at the same time I think there are ongoing concerns, just naturally.

And trends that we are seeing where consumers are concerned and enterprises should be aware that, as an example, in the index some of the metrics and information that we received from the consumers were that over three-quarters of Americans believe that the world financial crisis has increased their risk of experiencing identity theft, and of that 28%, or one-quarter, believe their risk has increased substantially.

So we are seeing a distinct shift in concerns moving away from traditional national security, terrorist-related concerns at the consumer level and individual personal level to more heightened concerns around financial security risks.

FIELD: So Sid, what is the message you take out to your clients now based on these findings?

PEARL: Well, when we speak to our clients within industry, within financial services and other industries as well, we share this information with them to get them to see the perspective from the consumer because it is the customer's view that, for example, in financial services that our clients are very interested in. They are very interested in knowing what are they seeing themselves, what are their overall concerns and of those concerns what can the bank or other industries do to try and protect their data?

So as they look at this, their clients are interested in finding better ways to be able to protect the customer and consumer related information. And of course, looking to work with organizations like Unisys to help them put in place the right controls to protect that data so that the consumer can see that the necessary steps are being taken.

FIELD: Now you are a veteran of these studies, would you say that there are any surprises to you from these findings?

PEARL: Well, for me personally, these findings are not that surprising. I personally, through my years of experience and over 25 years of working in the security industry, have been seeing these trends occurring over a period of time. I think that what has happened is that now with the current focus on the financial crisis that more people are aware of what is happening, and there are greater concerns out there about that.

But with the increase in identity theft and fraudulent activities, I think more people are becoming aware, so I am personally not that surprised about these latest trends.

FIELD: And really not a bad thing that people are becoming more aware of these things, wouldn't you agree?

PEARL: Well, absolutely I agree. I think that to put it in the right context I would say that knowledge is the currency of the future. And so what you are seeing now is that people are becoming more aware of what they need to do to try and protect their own information, from putting in controls, down to their own desktop and personal electronics level, as well as asking more stringent questions of the banks and other organizations that they conduct business with and asking them what are they doing to protect their information. So I think knowledge is power, and they should be leveraging that knowledge to ask the correct questions.

FIELD: You know, I am curious; as you know, we have got a new administration in town in D.C., and they seem pretty inclined to want to move into new areas of security. Do you think there is a message here for government officials as well from the consumers that responded to your study?

PEARL: Well, I think there is. I think there is an opportunity for the government to take a proactive step in saying we are moving beyond the traditional "we are going to be reactive and just respond to security issues and events as they occur" to moving beyond that to moving into more of the proactive and predictive state to try and predict patterns of behavior and put in place the necessary controls to try and thwart these activities before they actually occur. So certainly I think there is an opportunity for the U.S. government to have a role in that and promote that and putting in place the necessary controls.

FIELD: Now given what you have learned from this study, what are some of the areas you might keep an eye on in your next U.S. survey? And, I wonder if you can give us any information about the global study as well?

PEARL: Well, the global study, Tom, is going to be released here in the near future so at this point in time I am not going to be able to release any specific information. However, I think that as we look to the future, and look at other activities that are occurring, I think we should still continue to keep a focus on financial concerns as it relates to the consumer. Because as we all know and see that the world economy is connected electronically, and the latest round of events have shown that when one country is impacted, other countries are impacted as well and that none of us are now independent of the various risks that we are all faced with today.

So I think as we look into the future, at future security indices, we look at it from the global as well as the local perspective and determine are these trends continuing to increase, decrease or moderate. I think those are the things that we will continue to take a look at.

FIELD: Well, we will look forward to seeing the global study, but meanwhile for people who want to learn more about the U.S. version of the Unisys Security Index, where can they get more information?

PEARL: Certainly they can go to www.unisys.com or contact any of our public relations personnel at Unisys as well.

FIELD: Excellent. Sid, I appreciate your time and your insights today.

PEARL: Thank you very much, Tom, for your time.

FIELD: We've been talking with Sidney Pearl of Unisys, and the topic has been the Unisys Security Index. For Information Security Media Group, I'm Tom Field. Thank you very much.

About the Author

Tom Field

Tom Field

Senior Vice President, Editorial, ISMG

Field is responsible for all of ISMG's 28 global media properties and its team of journalists. He also helped to develop and lead ISMG's award-winning summit series that has brought together security practitioners and industry influencers from around the world, as well as ISMG's series of exclusive executive roundtables.

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