Poor board level buy-in hampering cybersecurity of global businesses

20 December 2017 Consultancy.uk

Cybersecurity remains a key area of concern for businesses globally. However, a lack of board level buy-in and poor communication means fewer than half of all organisations have even completed basic vulnerability assessments, according to a new survey.

With several consulting firms having recently been the victim of data breaches or close calls, cybercrime remains a key concern for businesses, governments and individuals. Increasing numbers of valuable interactions occur within digital spaces, which are often relatively insecure. A variety of attacks continue to damage businesses, while more seriously, some, such as an attack on Ukraine’s power system, saw 230,000 people placed in danger by power shortages.

The scale of an attack can vary considerably, with everything from script kiddies to organised gangs and state actors active in the arena. Defence, mitigation, resilience to attacks vary considerably as well, as some businesses and consumers remain drastically under-prepared.

 Automation on cyber security

In a new report from PwC, titled ‘2018 Global State of Information Security Survey (GSISS)’, the professional services firm explores in how far 9,500 respondents have prepared themselves to resist potential bad actors, particularly the increasing number of automated systems that operate across the wider business environment, from Industry 4.0 to RPAs.

The firm’s survey of businesses that leverage automation, shows considerable concern among respondents about the consequences of a successful attack against their system. 40%, for instance, imagine a disruption of operations / manufacturing, 39% imagine a loss or compromise of sensitive data, while 22% believe a breach could even result in harm to human life.Board level confidence

The research notes, however, that a large portion of the respondents does not have an employee focused security awareness training programme (earlier reports found that employees tend to be a weak line). Meanwhile, 54% do not have an incident-response process in places, which is increasingly pressing for organisations operating with information on EU citizens.

Board involvement

Board involvement remains a key precipitator in wider security implementation, with strong governance and executive buy-in linked to wider strategy success. However, the research found active engagement by 44% of their corporate boards. Board activity is relatively weak in terms of involvement in security policies, at 39%, while their hand in security technologies and review of current security and privacy risks comes in at 36% and 31% of respondents respectively.

Reporting security officers

The principal security officers, tasked with dealing with cybersecurity related planning and incident management, tend to have a relatively broad remit when it comes to reporting. Around 40% report directly to the CEO, while 27% report directly to the board, reflecting a possible information bottleneck to the board. Other areas of report include to the CIO and to the chief privacy officer.

More broadly, there is fragmentation of opinion when it comes to the approach taken by ownership. Many organisations (48%) lack a CISO, CSO or equivalent position, while around 45% report that they employ a chief security officer; and 47% employ dedicated security personnel in general.

Lack of preparation

When it comes to processes that are seen as key to ‘uncovering cyber risks within businesses’, less than half of survey respondents had implemented the strategies. Vulnerability assessments, for instance, had already been implemented at 45% of organisations, while penetration tests have been implemented at 42%. Other processes, like threat assessments and the active monitoring/analysis of information security intelligence were found to be implemented at 45% and 48% of respondents’ organisations respectively.

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Boards of top UK firms must do more on cyber-awareness

06 March 2019 Consultancy.uk

A new report released by the UK Government has found that UK businesses need to do more to build awareness in their firms, if they are to fend off cyber-attackers. The study found that an all-time high of 72% of businesses now see cyber-threats as a top risk, but just less than half of UK boards do not have a comprehensive understanding of the critical assets at risk from cyber-attacks.

Digital technology has revolutionised modern business, with a rate of innovation present in many companies that arguably eclipses that of the industrial revolution. The huge opportunities presented by technology mean that many firms have rushed to digitalise their offerings; but while this means they are able to take advantage  of the latest trends, it has also opened innumerable doors for cyber-criminals looking to use technology to loot corporations from across the globe.

Illustrating the extent to which cyber-crime has boomed in the last decade, in the final quarter of 2018, a study commissioned by Bromium and presented by Dr. Michael McGuire at RSA found that the cyber-crime economy has grown to an estimated $1.5 trillion dollars annually. That is only a conservative estimate – but that conservative figure alone is so large that if it constituted a national GDP, instead of a collection of digital frauds, it would be the world’s 13th largest economy.

Amid this state of play, it is easy to see why cyber-security has become one of the key watchwords of any board room in the 21st century. The cyber-security consulting segment has boomed, with the world’s 10 largest operators in the segment bringing in more than $11 billion in related fees, as businesses tap external expertise to help find areas where they can improve their defences. As noted by a new UK Government report, the legacy of this spike in consulting activity is that almost all UK businesses now have a cyber-security strategy, with only 4% admitting otherwise. 

Cyber threats are increasingly seen as high risk in comparison to other risks that businesses face

This comes at the end of a sea-change in attitudes toward cyber-security over the last five years. According to the 2018 FTSE 350 Cyber Governance Health Check, in 2013, the largest minority of businesses felt cyber-threats represented a low operational risk, at 38%, compared to just 25% who saw it as a very high group risk. Now, the two opinions have seen a dramatic reversal, with only 6% seeing cyber-security as a low threat, compared to a huge 72% of businesses which see it as a very high risk. Considering the high profile hacks that occurred in the interim, this is perhaps not that surprising.

However, while cyber-awareness in general is at an all-time high, this is where the positive news ends. According to the study, while the vast majority of firms in the UK have a cyber-security plan in place, only 46% have a dedicated budget to enact that strategy. Should their financial positions change rapidly in the near future – something increasingly likely with the prospect of a No Deal Brexit still looming over the horizon – then that plan could fall by the wayside, with the funding shortfall exposing firms to even greater financial damage in the near future.

The study, released by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport (DCMS) in March 2019, was undertaken in partnership with Winning Moves and support from EY, KPMGPwC and Deloitte, working with their FTSE 350 clients to participate in the survey. The study also found that while most businesses have incident response plans, most are not testing them: 95% of FTSE 350 businesses have an incident response, but a mere 57% test their crisis incident response plans regularly. With companies facing the consistently evolving threat of cyber-attacks, that could leave major chinks in their armour undiscovered until it is too late.

Board understanding of business-critical assets

Similarly, many firms also seem oblivious to the threat posed by their wider supply chains, which if left unchecked, provide hackers with a blank cheque to access company data. A majority of boards do not recognise supply chain risks beyond the first tier, as 77% of FTSE 350 businesses told researchers they did not recognise the risks associated with businesses in the supply chain with whom they have no direct contact.

Meanwhile, almost half of UK boards do not understand the critical assets at risk from cyber-attacks. 54% of businesses in 2018 rated the board’s understanding of critical information, data assets and systems as comprehensive, while of that, only 12% said understanding was the best it could be. This compares to 43% of boards in 2017 and 32% in 2015/16 stating they had a clear understanding, suggesting that key progress is being made, but also that there is a great deal of room for improvement.

Commenting on the findings, Digital Minister Margot James said, “We know that companies are well aware of the risks, but more needs to be done by boards to make sure that they don’t fall victim to a cyber-attack. This report shows that we still have a long way to go but I am also encouraged to see that some improvements are being made. Cyber-security should never be an add-on for businesses and I would urge all executives to work with the National Cyber Security Centre and take up the government’s advice and training that’s available.”