Dark Reading is part of the Informa Tech Division of Informa PLC

This site is operated by a business or businesses owned by Informa PLC and all copyright resides with them.Informa PLC's registered office is 5 Howick Place, London SW1P 1WG. Registered in England and Wales. Number 8860726.

Threat Intelligence

End of Bibblio RCM includes -->
06:25 PM
Connect Directly

Despite Heightened Cyber-Risks, Few Security Leaders Report to CEO

A new report suggests that top management at most companies still don't get security.

Despite mounting concerns over data breaches and the growing sophistication of the threat landscape, top management at most organizations still don't appear to view cybersecurity as a business-critical function.

A survey of 1,426 security professionals recently conducted by the Ponemon Institute for LogRhythm found just 7% of organizations represented in the survey had security leaders reporting directly to the CEO. The remaining 93% have their security leaders reporting to other executives, including the chief information officer (24%), director or manager of IT (19%), chief technology officer (12%), vice president of IT (11%), or chief revenue officer (9%).

Related Content:

CISO Confidence Is Rising, but Issues Remain

Special Report: Building the SOC of the Future

New From The Edge: 7 Powerful Cybersecurity Skills the Energy Sector Needs Most

Far from being close to the CEO, the survey shows the average security leader is, in fact, three levels removed from the chief executive, making it challenging for them to clearly articulate enterprise security risks to top leadership. Most security leaders don't have a direct relationship with the CEO and the board, even though they have complete ownership or significant influence over their organizations' cybersecurity budgets. Respondents to the LogRhythm/Ponemon survey reported an annual security budget of $38 million, or roughly 24% of their organization's average IT budget of $159 million.

"Cybersecurity leaders have assumed more accountability and risk but struggle to achieve the desired security posture because they are not as influential as other members of their peer group," says Mark Logan, CEO of LogRhythm.

Going into the survey, LogRhythm expected to find many CEOs were still failing to recognize the importance of the cybersecurity function, Logan says. Even so, the fact that only 7% of security leaders report directly to the CEO was surprising, he says.

"That is an extremely low percentage considering cybersecurity is a critical business function," he says.  

The issue of top management not giving the cybersecurity function and CISOs/CSOs enough attention has been long-standing. Security experts have long noted how the C-suite and boards of directors have often tended to view cybersecurity as a cost center and tactical firefighting operation rather than as a strategic business enabler. Security leaders themselves have often taken the blame for being overly technical and unable to articulate security challenges to the C-suite in terms of business risk and risk management.

The LogRhythm/Ponemon report shows the current reporting structure for CISOs and CSOs at most organizations is doing little to alleviate the situation. Just 37% of respondents, for instance, said they or someone within the security function reports to the board on cybersecurity matters. Of this number, 41% said they report to the board only when a security incident happens, and 13% said they report to the board just once a year. Only 30% of respondents said someone from the security function reports to the board on a quarterly basis. While workplace disruptions tied to the COVID-19 pandemic have significantly elevated security risks at most organizations, 63% of respondents said they had not briefed the board on these risks.

"The level of board awareness of the state of security within an organization must therefore be remarkably low," Logan says. "Not only does leadership not have a clear picture of the program and risks, but risk is also amplified due to this lack of executive visibility when it comes to strategic planning and budgeting."

The Filtering Impact
One reason why security leaders are still not getting enough attention in the C-suite is a continued lack of understanding about their role among top leadership. Logan describes the situation as resulting from a sort of "filtering" that occurs when security issues are reported to the CEO through multiple layers.

"For example, let’s say a CSO reports to a CIO, who then reports to the CFO," he says. "The CFO would be the one to ultimately deliver the message to the CEO."

This sort of a reporting structure can create bottlenecks and result in less budgetary and organizational support because the security message can get diluted through the drawn-out channels of communication, he says.

Significantly, though, most CISOs and other security leaders don't have direct access to the CEO — and therefore are limited in their ability to affect significant change yet are likely to take the fall if something goes wrong. When respondents were asked who should be held accountable for a cyberattack, 42% pointed to the security leader compared with 15% who felt the buck stops with the CEO.

The report shows that leadership attitudes toward the cybersecurity function and reporting structures have remained largely static, though risks have increased sharply. Fifty-five percent of the respondents said their organizations had experienced a data breach in the past two years. The shift to a remote workforce caused by the pandemic has exacerbated the issues and left most organizations feeling more vulnerable to attack than before.

"To be successful in gaining visibility and influence, security leaders must first understand their audience — specifically what they care about and what their goals are," Logan notes.

To dispel notions about security being a cost center, security leaders need to make the conversation about cost efficiencies and impact to the organization's bottom line.

"To be effective, the security leader must have a deep understanding of the organization’s culture, customers, models, drivers, and overarching goals," he says.

Jai Vijayan is a seasoned technology reporter with over 20 years of experience in IT trade journalism. He was most recently a Senior Editor at Computerworld, where he covered information security and data privacy issues for the publication. Over the course of his 20-year ... View Full Bio

Comment  | 
Print  | 
More Insights
Newest First  |  Oldest First  |  Threaded View
I Smell a RAT! New Cybersecurity Threats for the Crypto Industry
David Trepp, Partner, IT Assurance with accounting and advisory firm BPM LLP,  7/9/2021
Attacks on Kaseya Servers Led to Ransomware in Less Than 2 Hours
Robert Lemos, Contributing Writer,  7/7/2021
It's in the Game (but It Shouldn't Be)
Tal Memran, Cybersecurity Expert, CYE,  7/9/2021
Register for Dark Reading Newsletters
White Papers
Current Issue
Creating an Effective Incident Response Plan
Security teams are realizing their organizations will experience a cyber incident at some point. An effective incident response plan that takes into account their specific requirements and has been tested is critical. This issue of Tech Insights also includes: -a look at the newly signed cyber-incident law, -how organizations can apply behavioral psychology to incident response, -and an overview of the Open Cybersecurity Schema Framework.
Flash Poll
How Enterprises are Developing Secure Applications
How Enterprises are Developing Secure Applications
Recent breaches of third-party apps are driving many organizations to think harder about the security of their off-the-shelf software as they continue to move left in secure software development practices.
Twitter Feed
Dark Reading - Bug Report
Bug Report
Enterprise Vulnerabilities
From DHS/US-CERT's National Vulnerability Database
PUBLISHED: 2022-11-27
In Botan before 2.19.3, it is possible to forge OCSP responses due to a certificate verification error. This issue was introduced in Botan 1.11.34 (November 2016).
PUBLISHED: 2022-11-27
An issue was discovered in the Linux kernel through 6.0.10. l2cap_config_req in net/bluetooth/l2cap_core.c has an integer wraparound via L2CAP_CONF_REQ packets.
PUBLISHED: 2022-11-27
A SQL injection issue was discovered in AAA in OpenDaylight (ODL) before 0.16.5. The aaa-idm-store-h2/src/main/java/org/opendaylight/aaa/datastore/h2/UserStore.java deleteUser function is affected when the API interface /auth/v1/users/ is used.
PUBLISHED: 2022-11-27
A SQL injection issue was discovered in AAA in OpenDaylight (ODL) before 0.16.5. The aaa-idm-store-h2/src/main/java/org/opendaylight/aaa/datastore/h2/RoleStore.java deleteRole function is affected when the API interface /auth/v1/roles/ is used.
PUBLISHED: 2022-11-27
KubeView through 0.1.31 allows attackers to obtain control of a Kubernetes cluster because api/scrape/kube-system does not require authentication, and retrieves certificate files that can be used for authentication as kube-admin. NOTE: the vendor's position is that KubeView was a "fun side proj...