C-suite executives overconfident and underincluded when it comes to data security

Mobile devices and social-media services are considered to be the riskiest parts of the corporate IT infrastructure by C-suite executives who see IT security as their top concern and rogue individuals as the biggest threat to their security, according to a new global survey of C-suite attitudes towards data security.

Those attitudes suggest a much higher level of confidence in IT-security readiness than would be indicated by actual progress, according to the IBM Institute for Business Value's Securing the C-Suite survey – which polled more than 700 C-suite executives from 28 countries on their perceptions of information security exposure and risk-management strategies.

Just 17 percent of organisations said they were prepared in four key areas that IBM related to being 'cybersecured' – having a CISO in place, including c-suite collaboration in a cybersecurity plan, regularly discussing security in C-suite meetings, and having security as a regular topic on the boardroom agenda.

Despite their low level of actual cybersecurity-related activity, however, C-suite executives were far more optimistic about their overall security posture: 76 percent of CIOs and risk officers said their cybersecurity plans were very well established, as did 55 percent of CEOs.

The results suggested a wide disconnect between security perception and reality in the C-suite, IBM's analysis said, as well as a lack of executive understanding of the key elements of a successful organisational IT-security function.

The implications of this disconnect are significant, particularly given additional findings that 51 percent of the same CxOs believe their organisation faces a 1 in 4 chance of suffering a breach with material impact on their organisations. That is “a significant acknowledgement of the risk”, IBM's analysis said, noting that this acknowledgement was at adds with the relatively low number of organisations that are actually properly secured.

Truly cybersecured organisations, in IBM's view, “have made significant progress to define and implement their cybersecurity strategies. As a result, these organisations have a more effective cybersecurity risk mitigation profile” bolstered through activities such as active C-level engagement in threat management, cross-functional collaboration on cybersecurity issues, formal appointment of a CISO, and collaboration with external entities to share incident information.

Respondents were asked to identify which specific technologies posed the most risk and mobile devices were named by 57 percent of respondents. Social-media systems ranked second, nominated by 54 percent of respondents, while enterprise mobile applications and cloud applications were each named by 47 percent of respondents.

The survey also identified significant differences in perception of security preparedness between the various members of the C-suite: although 77 percent of chief risk officers and 76 percent of CIOs said their organisation's cybersecurity plans are well in place, only 61 percent of chief HR officers, 59 percent of chief marketing officers, 55 percent of CFOs and 51 percent of CEOs said the same.

“This is significant because these three executives are ultimately the stewards of customer, financial and employee data,” the IBM analysis notes, adding that this information is “highly coveted by cyber-criminals” but may be underprotected due to historical functional divisions in the delivery of IT security.

“Since cybersecurity has been largely an IT responsibility, CIOs may believe that they have addressed the technical aspects and implemented solid defences across the corporate network, within applications, and for access remotely via laptops and mobile devices,” the report suggests.

“Assuming this is sufficient without engaging the business has the potential to miss areas in business, information management and third party solutions. Cloud exemplifies this concern and may account for the C-suite's differing views on the security risks.”

Those views may be perpetuating feelings of exclusion amongst C-suite members, with around 60 percent of marketing, HR and financial executives indicating that they are not involved in security discussions when the topic is raised at the executive level. This shortcoming has direct implications on the organisation's ability to foster productive collaboration, the report noted, with CIOs far more confident that executives are being included than the executives themselves.

Read more: Australian executives more concerned, engaged with email security issues than overseas peers: Mimecast

“Considering C-suite level interaction is the primary forum within which the surveyed executives indicated they collaborated with peers on cybersecurity, the low level of engagement by these three key executives is concerning,” the report warns.


With data increasingly being stored in the cloud, it’s critical to be able to evaluate and manage the security of cloud solutions. Dropbox's Solutions Architect team are teaming up with the Symantec Information Protection group to discuss the latest industry best practices.

Register here for the February 25th webinar on* Managing enterprise cloud security.

Read more: Most cybersecurity breaches go unreported, uninsured despite executive concern: Barclays


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