More than 60% of CEOs believe malware is the biggest threat to their organization, but just one-third of CISOs, CIOs, and CTOs agree.
It's just one data point in a new study by identity management company Centrify that shows a major disconnect on this and many other security issues between CEOs and their technical officers (TOs), which include CIOs, CTOs and CISOs.
CEOs and TOs also diverged on whether they knew if their organization had experienced a breach. Only 55% of CEOs say their organization experienced a breach, while 79% of TOs say so. On the technology front, 62% of CEOs say two-factor authentication technologies are difficult to manage, while only 41% of TOs concur with that statement.
"Part of the problem is that the technical people tend to try to keep the breach quiet," says Tom Kemp, CEO at Centrify. "I think overall, the TOs need to do a better job managing up, because with SEC regulations and various state breach notification regulations, organizations really do have to report if they have been breached today."
Kemp points out that 42% of TOs point to identity breaches as one of the primary threats to their organizations. And 68% of executives whose companies experienced significant breaches indicate it would most likely have been prevented by either privileged user identity and access management or user identity assurance. Only 8% of all executives whose companies experienced a significant breach say that anti-malware technology would have prevented the more significant breaches with serious consequences.
Frank Dickson, an IDC analyst who focuses on identity and access management, points out that the 2017 Verizon Data Breach Investigations Report found that 81% of hacking-related breaches leveraged stolen and/or weak passwords.
"Our goal is not to eliminate malware, our goal is to eliminate breaches," Dickson says. "By strengthening authentication, it lets us build security into the network," and potentially eliminate the vast majority of breaches.
Lawrence Orans, a research vice president at Gartner who focuses on network security, says he doesn't think it's helpful to set security up as a choice between identity management versus malware detection.
"For example, malware could be used to steal credentials and execute an even broader attack," he says. "And it actually makes sense that there would be a disconnect between the CEO's understanding of new security technologies versus the TO's: that's what the CEO has the technical people for in the first place."
Centrify's Kemp maintains that TOs need to educate their CEOs on identity management issues, citing the three main tenets of so-called zero trust security:
- Verify users. Companies can do this with single sign-on software that's layered in with two-factor authentication.
- Validate devices. Have a procedure for determining if the devices are enrolled with the IT department with the right OS versions, patch levels, and antivirus software. IT must also check past usage, including a user's geography. (A user can't be in New York one minute, then San Jose five minutes later).
- Limit access and privileges. Companies should move to a least-privilege model in which users only gain access to a system if they need it for their jobs, and only for a defined time period.
The study was based on a survey of 800 senior executives conducted in November 2017 by Dow Jones Customer Intelligence, a unit of the Wall Street Journal/Dow Jones Advertising Department. More than 75% of the executives surveyed are CEOs, CTOs or technical officers such as CIOs, CTOs and CISOs; the rest are their direct reports.
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