An empirical assessment of cybersecurity risk across multiple industries shows that media, telecom, and technology firms are at least twice as likely to experience a material breach in the next 12 months compared with organizations in the energy and utilities sectors.
The assessment, by the US Chamber of Commerce and FICO, also shows that larger companies are at greater risk of cybersecurity incidents than smaller businesses, and that the construction industry is the highest scoring sector on the security front.
The Chamber's new Assessment of Cybersecurity (ABC) is an aggregate measure of security risk across small, midsize, and large US companies in 10 industries. The measure is based on the FICO risk scores of a random sample of 2,574 such businesses across those industry sectors. ABC is intended to reflect relative risk both at a national level and within industry sectors, but it is not a measure of cybersecurity preparedness.
FICO's cyber-risk risks, such as credit scores, range from 300 to 850, with higher scores reflecting lower relative risk and better security.
Overall, across all measured industry segments, US businesses scored 687 out of 850. At an individual sector level, the media, telecom, and technology sectors scored lowest, with 619, while the construction industry, with a score of 764, topped the list. Transportation, with a score of 709, energies and utilities (707), and business services (704) were some other sectors that performed relatively well in the assessment. The financial services industry and healthcare sector—two of the most attacked sectors—scored reasonably well, at 642 and 679, respectively.
"The ABC shows the cybersecurity of the entire business community and across key sectors," says Chris Roberti, senior vice president for cyber, intelligence, and security policy at the US Chamber. "It's a first-of-its-kind benchmark for businesses that can help organizations think about their cyber posture and determine how to enhance it."
The scores are an indicator of relative cyber-risk that organizations can use to measure themselves against, he says. "The ABC will help organizations identify risk relative to the business community at large and with industry peers," Roberti adds.
When broken down by company size, the Chambers' ABC showed that the size of an organization and the complexity of its network have a direct bearing on risk. Generally, the bigger and more complex a network is, the greater the risk it faces. The only industries where there was not much variance in relative risk between small, midsize, and large organizations were healthcare and finance, likely because the two sectors are heavily regulated and deal with lots of sensitive data.
The Odds of Getting Breached
FICO's cyber-risk scores are based on data — or risk indicators — associated with an organization's Internet-facing assets. The data the company uses for its score is passively obtained by looking at things like an organization's total Internet footprint; the security hygiene of its Internet-accessible IT systems, software, and services; and its network infrastructure in terms of how it is configured and architected. Data on major breaches and security incidents that an organization might have experienced are factored into the score, too.
"FICOs Cyber Risk Score is an empirical measure of cyberbreach risk," says Doug Clare, vice president for cybersecurity solutions at FICO. It uses a machine-learning model that is trained on real breach examples and on the differences between companies that have suffered one and those that haven't, he notes. "We look at the statistical differences, and they translate to event odds," Clare says.
For instance, a company with a cyber-risk score of 300 is 24 times more likely to experience a serious data breach in the next year compared with an organization with a score of 850. The relationship between an organization's score and its odds of getting breached are linear and double with each 84-point increase. "It is like a credit score or other forecasting models based on real data," Clare notes.
The score has at least three use cases, he says. Companies can use the score as an independent, third-party metric to understand their own risk exposure and to see how they are performing against industry peers.
FICO's risk scores can also be used in cyber-risk insurance underwriting and pricing. Cyber-risk carriers and reinsurers use the score in making underwriting decisions for breach risk insurance.
The third use case is for vendor management. Cyber-risk scores can give organizations a better understanding of supply-chain risks and support decisions about whether to work with a vendor or to audit it, Clare notes.
"ABC is about generating a dialogue for organizations to be thinking about cyber as a risk," he says. "Most people are tuned into the fact that they probably have cyber-risks, but they don't know how to talk about it." ABC can promote a dialogue that can help organization understand that cyber-risk can be understood and quantified, he notes.
Useful as such scores are, some limitations exist. The biggest is the fact that scores based on data gathered from external-facing assets tell only part of the story.
A score "taken from the outside looking in is similar to rating the fire risk to a building based on a photograph from across the street," says Mike Lloyd, CTO of RedSeal. "You can, of course, establish some important things about the quality of a building from a photograph, but it's no substitute for really being able to inspect it from the inside."
The best cyber-risk scores take into account both what's happening inside the network and outside indicators. But the hard part about doing that is access. If the organization doesn't give permission or cannot easily allow an outside third party access to its internal network, any risk scores that are assigned to it will be somewhat limited.
"This means that the ideal scores for comparison across a whole industry, at least for the time being, will need to be the surface-level scans that can be applied to every company," Lloyd says.
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