Poor communication between CEOs and technical officers leads to misalignment

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A misalignment between CEOs and technical officers is weakening enterprise cybersecurity postures, according to Centrify.

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CEOs are incorrectly focused on malware, creating misalignment within the C-suite, which results in undue risk exposure and prevents organizations from effectively stopping breaches. Technical officers (CIOs, CTOs and CISOs) on the front lines of cybersecurity point to identity breaches – including privileged user identity attacks and default, stolen or weak passwords – as the biggest threat, not malware.

As a result, cybersecurity strategies, project priorities, and budget allocations don’t always match up with the primary threats nor prepare companies to stop most breaches.

The study – a survey of 800 enterprise executives including CEOs, technical officers, and CFOs – highlights that:

  • 62 percent of CEOs cite malware as the primary threat to cybersecurity, compared with only 35 percent of technical officers.
  • Only 8 percent of all executives stated that anti-malware endpoint security would have prevented the “significant breaches with serious consequences” that they experienced.
  • 68 percent 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.

“While the vast majority of CEOs view themselves as the primary owners of their cybersecurity strategies, this report makes a strong argument that companies need to listen more closely to their technical officers,” said Tom Kemp, CEO of Centrify. “It’s clear that the status quo isn’t working. Business leaders need to rethink security with a Zero Trust Security approach that verifies every user, validates their devices, and limits access and privilege.”

Investing in the wrong cybersecurity solutions

The 2017 Data Breach Investigation Report released by Verizon indicates that 81 percent of breaches involve weak, default, or stolen passwords. Identity is the primary attack vector, not malware, yet the report reveals that malware is still the focus point for most CEOs:

  • 60 percent of CEOs invest the most in malware prevention and 93 percent indicate they already feel “well-prepared” for malware risk.
  • 49 percent of CEOs say their companies will substantially reduce malware threats over the next two years, yet only 28 percent of CTOs agree with this statement.

These investment decisions are frequently caused by misplaced confidence in the ability to protect against breaches, putting organizations at significant risk. While technical officers are more aware of the real risks, they are also frustrated by inadequate security budgets, as spending is typically strongly aligned with CEO priorities rather than with actual threats.

Poor communication leads to misalignment

The study also exposed that the disconnect between CEOs and technical officers leads to misaligned security strategies, and tension among executives.

  • 81 percent of CEOs say they are most accountable for their organizations’ cybersecurity strategies, while 78 percent of oalicers make the same ownership claim.
  • Only 55 percent of CEOs say their organization has experienced a breach, whereas 79 percent of CTOs acknowledge they’ve been breached. This indicates that 24 percent of CEOs are not aware that they have experienced a breach.

“The traditional security model of using well-defined perimeters between ‘trusted’ corporate insiders and ‘untrusted outsiders’ to protect assets has evolved with the advent of cloud, mobile and IoT. Yet most enterprises continue to prioritize spending on traditional security tools and approaches,” said Garrett Bekker, Principal Security Analyst at 451 Research. “Centrify’s research reveals that a primary reason for conflicting cybersecurity strategies and spending is that C-level executives and technical managers don’t always see eye-to-eye regarding security priorities, and a misaligned C-Suite can put the organization at risk. Modern organizations need to rethink their approach and adopt a framework that relies on verifying identity rather than location as the primary means of controlling access to applications, endpoints and infrastructure.”

Outdated thinking results in higher risk

CEOs also expressed frustration with security technologies that have a poor user experience and cause their employees to lose productivity. 62 percent of CEOs state that multi-factor authentication (MFA) is difficult to manage and is not user-friendly, while only 41 percent of technical officers agree with this assessment.

This outdated perception has been resolved by significant innovation by identity security vendors in areas such as machine learning. These advances have substantially reduced the burden of deploying and managing authentication solutions and improved the user experience for a range of security technologies.