Australian CSOs blame CEOs, not users, for security shortfalls: survey

IT security executives must become much better at positioning cybersecurity risk and investments within the overall business risk context, one security expert has warned as research suggests Australian security executives believe CEOs and board members bear the responsibility when their organisations are breached.

Fully 98 percent of respondents to a recent Websense survey of 100 Australian security professionals, conducted by Redshift Research, agreed that there should be legal consequences for data breaches that expose consumers' personal data.

Some 65 percent of these supported mandatory disclosure of breaches, while 60 percent believed consumers should be compensated and 59 percent believed there should be fines for companies that are so breached.

Asked who should be responsible for a data breach, just 6 percent of respondents said the CSO should be held responsible; by contrast, 41 percent said the CEO should hold ultimate responsibility for breaches. Some 29 percent blamed the IT department, 13 percent blamed other board members, and just 7 percent said employees were responsible for breaches.

Fully 23 percent of respondents even advocated arrest and jail sentences for the CEO or board members.

The figures were surprising both in the “overwhelming” support for mandatory breach disclosure laws, Websense ANZ sales engineering manager Bradley Anstis told CSO Australia, and for the extent to which the figures suggested that Australian executives simply aren't providing enough resources to meet security needs.

“Time and time again, we're working with organisations where their security architectures just have not kept up with the threat landscape and how it is evolving,” he said, citing recent explosions in Cryptolocker and Torrentlocker attacks on Australian businesses as a case in point.

Some 43 percent of respondents blame a lack of executive action on the complexity of the issues, while 37 percent believe their company only makes the minimum investment in security to meet legal compliance requirements.

“As IT security people we need to get a lot better at talking about this risk,” Anstis said. “It's important that security executives talk about ways of looking at existing security architectures, identifying what gaps they have, and what over or under-investments have been made.”

Read more: The week in security: Inside the antivirus pressure-sell; Adobe's 38m-strong privacy breach

“We need to relate that risk within an organisation's risk register to get it better looked at and understood by senior executives.”

This gap in understanding was clear that many security executives feel CEOs and board members aren't taking the growing cybersecurity threat seriously enough despite Australia consistently ranking among the world's most-attacked countries.

Only 38 percent believe that IT security is being treated with high enough priority within their organisations, while 43 percent said that their companies believe they are protected – but that the technology being used is not appropriate.

The figures suggest that a previously reported disconnect between CSOs and business executives has persisted despite efforts to improve the relationships: a similar survey a year ago, conducted by Websense and Ponemon Institute, found that fully one-third of CSOs never speak with business executives about security threats – and that a further 22 percent only meet once a year to discuss security.

Read more: Seven things government security leaders expect vendors to address

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