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6/20/2019
10:00 AM
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Cybersecurity Accountability Spread Thin in the C-Suite

While cybersecurity discussions have permeated board meetings, the democratization of accountability has a long way to go.

A spate of recent surveys offer indications that the philosophy that "cybersecurity is everyone's responsibility" is gaining steam in the C-suite at most large organizations. But digging into the numbers — and keeping in mind perennially abysmal breach statistics — it's clear that while awareness has broadened across the board room, accountability and action are still spread pretty thin.

report released this week by Radware shows promising signs that cybersecurity is increasingly coming up in board talks and is near-universally viewed as the entire C-suite's responsibility to enable. Conducted among 260 C-suite executives worldwide, the study shows that more than 70% of organizations touch on cybersecurity as a discussion item at every board meeting. Meantime, 98% of all members across the C-suite say they have some management responsibility for cybersecurity.  

This jibes with another study released earlier this month by KPMG that shows CEOs are increasingly paying attention to cybersecurity risks as a part of their overall technology risk profile. In 2018, according to KPMG, just 15% of US CEOs agreed that strong cybersecurity is critical to engender trust with key stakeholders; that percentage shot up to 72% of CEOs this year. 

"CEOs are no longer looking at cyber-risk as a separate topic. More and more they have it embedded into their overall change programs and are beginning to make strategic decisions with cyber-risk in mind," says Tony Buffomante, global co-leader of cybersecurity services at KPMG. "It is no longer viewed as a standalone solution." 

That sounds good at the surface level, but other recently surfaced statistics offer grounding counterbalance. A global survey of C-suite executives released last week by Nominet indicates these top executives have some serious gaps in knowledge about cybersecurity, with around 71% admitting they don't know enough about the main threats their organizations face.

This corroborates with a survey of CISOs conducted earlier this year by the firm that indicates security knowledge and expertise possessed by the board and C-levels is still dangerously low. Approximately 70% of security executives agree that at least one cybersecurity specialist should be on the board in order for it to take appropriate levels of due diligence in considering the issues. Unfortunately, less than 6% of CISOs believe their boards and executive management have enough knowledge to truly understand the nuances and implications of the cybersecurity issues CISOs bring to them. 

"The lack of cybersecurity expertise on boards underscores the disconnect between CISOs and the rest of the organizational leadership team," said Bradley Schaufenbuel, CISO and VP at Paylocity, in that report. "It is difficult to expect the proper level of governance and oversight with such an inherent absence of understanding of the risk at that level." 

More troubling about this assessment from the security professionals is that many CEOs consider themselves experts in security matters. The Radware study shows that 82% of CEOs ranked themselves as having a "high" level of knowledge about information security. The disparity between how the CISOs rank corner-office cybersecurity expertise compared with how CEOs self-assess likely indicates a false sense of security. And that's reflecting itself in low levels of buy-in and acceptance of advice from security employees: Only 36% of CISOs say senior management regularly takes their advice, and just 46% of broader C-suites admit to taking advice from security employees.

The results show that even though on paper everyone is "responsible" for security, in practice not enough decision-makers have adequate expertise and knowledge to develop and execute on security strategies. This is resulting in a disconnect that creates a situation where cybersecurity incidents are only reported to the board and C-suite at 40% of businesses today, according to the Nominet report.

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Ericka Chickowski specializes in coverage of information technology and business innovation. She has focused on information security for the better part of a decade and regularly writes about the security industry as a contributor to Dark Reading.  View Full Bio

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