IT bosses are growing increasingly concerned of the security risk posed by remote workers and a range of external 'outsiders', according to survey by policy networking software firm AEP Networks.

Ninety-one percent of the 381 UK and North American IT executives polled admitted there was a bigger risk of sensitive data being exposed to "unauthorised eyes" when networks were made accessible to remote workers and external users such as contractors, partners and customers.

Eighty nine percent highlighted the greater threat of malicious content such as viruses because of wider network accessibility and 85 percent noted the increased possibility of hacking.

But opening up networks was fast becoming an inevitability, executives said; 97 percent said today's networks were more accessible to a variety of internal and external users and devices than five years ago, and 94 percent either already allowed or planned to allow access to remote workers.

A large number also permit or plan to permit access to suppliers, customers, company guests, outsourced workers, contract staff, and external IT support and maintenance.

"On the one hand, IT is rightly under pressure to open the network door to partners, suppliers and customers to improve efficiency and enhance business processes," explained Reginald Best, chief operating officer at AEP Networks. "On the flip-side, they're sweating over how to prevent unauthorised access, protect company information and deflect malicious attacks."

IT security budgets are increasing in specific areas over the next 12 months, the survey revealed; 48 percent of respondents said their business would invest in secure remote access, 41 percent in network access control, 37 percent in identity-based network security solutions and 35 percent in encryption. Best said it was important that companies also developed policies to regulate network access.

"It effectively allows you to 'shut the network door' to anything that appears undesirable," he concluded.