How confident are companies in managing their current threat exposure?

Crossword Cybersecurity has released a report based on the findings of a survey of over 200 CISOs and senior UK cyber security professionals. The paper reveals companies are more concerned and exposed to cyber threats than ever before, with 61 percent describing themselves as at best only “fairly confident” at managing their current cybersecurity threat exposure, which should raise some eyebrows around the boardroom.

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Respondents also feared their cyber strategy would not keep pace with the rate of tech innovation and changes in the threat landscape. 40 percent of organizations believe their existing cyber strategy will be outdated in two years, and a further 37 percent within three years. Additional investment is needed to address longer term planning, with 44 percent saying they only have sufficient resources in their organization to focus on the immediate and mid-term cyber threats and tech trends.

The daily firefight

CISOs and cyber professionals report struggling to manage today’s cybersecurity risks across the board. Asked about the day-to-day aspects of securing their businesses on a scale including “a little, somewhat, or very challenging”, the following areas were ranked highest as at least somewhat challenging by respondents:

  • Detecting or identifying the occurrence of a cybersecurity event or threat – 56 percent (85 percent)
  • Third parties disclosing breaches in good time – 55 percent (85 percent)
  • Understanding and anticipating new or potential future strategies used by threat actors – 55 percent (84 percent)
  • Ensuring that the entire supply chain is water-tight in its ability to defend and recover against threat actors – 52 percent (83 percent)

Organizations juggling cyber strategy priorities

Not only do organizations feel they are chasing their next cyber strategy, but they are struggling to deliver on the one they have now. CISOs highlighted the following key priorities over the next 12 months:

  • The cyber skills gap within organizations is the highest strategic priority (31 percent). This has a been a perpetual problem facing the IT industry and cybersecurity teams can become quickly overwhelmed if the right expertise is not in place to manage the load. The effects of this can be devastating, creating risk vectors that can be exploited and may lead to human error under pressure, or a missed threat. Rather than hunting new people, the gap could in part be addressed by putting more resources into training and upskilling, but this is difficult when team capacity is already stretched.
  • The next most important priority highlighted by CISOs is the challenge of gaining consistent and reliable ‘threat intelligence’ (28 percent), with many reporting they rely on informal information sharing networks.
  • Securing digital identity (27 percent) was also identified as key given the risks posed by hackers gaining credentials and impersonating users to access data and systems.

Stuart Jubb, Group Managing Director at Crossword Cybersecurity, commented: “The picture painted by our research shows CISOs are in urgent need of a strategic rethink. CISOs need to balance their cybersecurity operation’s daily load with managing the organization’s long-term requirements. Boards must make sure CISOs have the budget necessary to get short-term issues under control and then begin planning a long-term business wide strategy. Such a strategy should be supported by a standard operating model with robust processes and policies for the company’s entire supply chain. Every month of delay leaves businesses open to potentially crippling cyber-attacks.”

The tech trends that matter to cyber professionals

CISOs were also asked about the technology trends that they saw as being the most important and relevant over the next 12 months. Several technology categories stood out with cloud transition and cyber in the cloud leading the way (41 percent), followed by Cyber Security Mesh Architecture (CSMA – 35 percent), and AI/Machine Learning (31 percent).

Deciding how each of these categories will fit into the short-term cyber goals and longer term strategy of UK organizations will take serious consideration. However, respondents did report having a clear view on the most important technology components they want to address in their cyber security plans in the short term, compared to the next three or five years.

75 percent said software verification, which helps to ensure a program is secure, 69 percent said cloud transition and 69 percent said dealing with ransomware escalation, will be a focus immediately or over the next 12 months. 65 percent identified CSMA, a method for making cybersecurity products interoperable, as a key technology. Other technologies of note included:

  • Zero trust and identity security (62%)
  • Quantum data stores / computing (55%)
  • AI / Machine learning (55%)

Jubb concluded: “Cybersecurity today is in a more tightly squeezed iterative cycle than it was in the past. It demands that organizations take a more strategic and collaborative approach – we recommend appointing a head of cyber security strategy, while leaving the CISO to deliver on the immediate challenges. Managing the day to day risks is a tough balancing act, but one that can be achieved if CISOs have the right resources to upskill their teams and tools that leverage AI to bring efficiency and automation to help protect their organization and its supply chain against today’s threats.”

Professor Tim Watson, Programme Director, Defence & Security, The Alan Turing Institute and Director, WMG Cyber Security Centre, University of Warwick, commented: “Collaboration is especially important when it comes to protecting critical national infrastructure because it’s rapidly becoming a whole new theatre of conflict between Nation States. It’s also not particularly easy because there are so many private and public stakeholders.”

Muttukrishnan Rajarajan (Raj), Professor of Security Engineering and Director, Institute for Cyber Security, City, University of London, commented: “Tackling ransomware is a huge area of focus in the world of research, so I’m not surprised this scored highly in the survey. We are often commissioned to work on projects that focus just on this – an attack on one SME can cause a complete supply chain to grind to a halt as we saw with vulnerabilities introduced via the Log4J code libraries recently.”




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