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Risk

10/29/2019
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Cybersecurity Trumps Political, Reputational Concerns for Companies

The average company has seen its risk increase, with cybersecurity topping the list of business threats, followed by damage to reputation and financial risks, a report finds.

Companies are increasingly worried about risks in the current economy, and while reputational, financial, and political risks continue to concern corporate managers, cybersecurity has become the top worry for companies, according to a survey conducted by IT governance group ISACA.

According to its annual "State of Enterprise Risk Management" report, ISACA found that 29% of the 4,625 risk managers polled identify cybersecurity at the top threat to their business, while 15% consider reputational risks and 13% name financial dangers as most critical. The average risk manager expects their risk to slightly increase in 2020, with the share of risk managers considering cybersecurity to be most critical climbing to 33%.

Overall, the steady advance of technology — both in the corporate infrastructure and those used to attack that infrastructure — has left risk managers concerned that they are not keeping up with cybersecurity threats, says Rob Clyde, director at ISACA.

"You have a dedicated group of adversaries that are trying to attack you, and they are using new technologies," he says. "Training alone is not going to solve those problems because the attacks have become so sophisticated."

The survey underscores that companies need to continue to develop their risk management capabilities. While the fundamentals of risk management, such as assessment and identification, are widely adopted, many domain-specific processes continue to be poorly understood. While only 24% of risk managers consider defining and assessing compliance and legal risk to be difficult, 41% find cybersecurity assessment difficult and 46% consider political-risk assessment difficult, according to the report.

It would not be "appropriate for every enterprise to work toward the highest maturity level for every risk management step," according to the report. But companies could benefit "with moving away from ad-hoc processes toward a workmanlike, systematic, documented and repeatable methodology for risk management."

New technologies and changes in current IT pose the most significant cybersecurity challenge for companies, according to the report. The largest share of respondents — 64% — identify technological advancement as a significant challenge for their company. Other challenges include the changing threat landscape, a lack of skilled cybersecurity workers, and workers missing the necessary skills for cybersecurity. 

The technology with which most companies continue to struggle is not even new: the cloud. Seven in 10 companies identify the cloud as a technology that is increasing their risk, followed by 34% identifying the Internet of Things and a quarter pointing to machine learning and artificial intelligence.

The fact that an "old" technology is still causing headaches for companies is telling, Clyde says. "It's not like it just came out yesterday — it is something that enterprises have gotten to know for quite a while," he says. "I'm a little bit concerned."

Yet cloud is also a solution to security problems for many companies, he adds. "Cloud providers are improving many measures of security for businesses, especially small businesses," he says.

Reputational and political risks stymie many companies. At least half of firms have difficulty measuring the reputational and political risks that could potentially affect their business, according to the study. Unsurprisingly, with a lack of measurement comes an inability to manage the problems as well. Nearly the same amount find mitigating the risks of political or reputational damage difficult or worse.

"Political risk is often outside of a company's control," Clyde says. "It can be really tough to plan for and mitigate."

While most companies focus on awareness training as a fundamental part of managing risk, companies should pursue that training throughout the company, not just among senior management, ISACA's report stated. In addition, training workers with domain-specific skills is important, especially with cybersecurity, which is already suffering from a scarcity in resources and knowledgeable workers, Clyde says.

"The knowledge needed to deal with certain types of risk and certain types of security needs to be embedded in the company itself," he says. "Organizations need to cross train people — find someone in an adjacent field and train them to so that they can cross over."

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Veteran technology journalist of more than 20 years. Former research engineer. Written for more than two dozen publications, including CNET News.com, Dark Reading, MIT's Technology Review, Popular Science, and Wired News. Five awards for journalism, including Best Deadline ... View Full Bio

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