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11/12/2019
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While CISOs Fret, Business Leaders Tout Security Robustness

A new Nominet survey shows a familiar disconnect between business and security teams on the matter of cyber preparedness.

Business leaders at many organizations are projecting a rosier picture of their cybersecurity posture than would appear warranted, a new survey shows.

Nominet recently surveyed nearly 300 senior security and IT practitioners, including CISOs, CIOs, and CTOs from the US and UK. The survey sought to assess the level of confidence among executives about their organizations' cybersecurity posture and readiness to deal with threats.

Seventy percent of the respondents said their organizations use its cybersecurity posture as a selling point to customers and business partners, even though CISOs and others responsible for cybersecurity were far less confident in the security stack.

Over one-third (34%) of the security executives in the Nominet survey, for instance, said they were only moderately satisfied with the effectiveness of their security controls, and another one-third said they were only somewhat or slightly confident. Most, in fact, scored their security stacks as 80% effective or less.

"The disconnect between CISO confidence and the business' willingness to use its cyber defense as a selling point was most surprising," says Stuart Reed, vice president of Nominet and the executive in charge of the company's research and data science group. This suggests a lack in communication or understanding of risk between security teams and the wider business, he says.

The survey shows many CISOs and other security executives are being put in compromising situations by business executives, who have a less-than-complete understanding of their challenges, Nominet concluded.

While it is natural a CISO might be slightly more cautious about claiming the effectiveness of the controls in place, the fact that more than one-third of security leaders are not even moderately confident is a worry, Reed says. "This disconnect in cyber confidence should act as an alarm bell to organizations and potentially prompt some investigation and analysis," he says.

One reason why CISOs and others feel less than fully confident in their security controls is likely because purchase decisions are not entirely in their hands. In many cases, the final word on a security purchase rests with a combination of business stakeholders and not necessarily security leaders. While security is obviously a factor, purchase decisions are based on other consideration as well, including cost, available alternatives, and ease of integration, Reed says.

"We need to begin looking at what will make our CISOs more confident," he says. Radware's survey shows, for example, that 20% of CISOs either don't test the performance of their security stacks once in place or don't know whether they have been tested. "Perhaps more investment here could increase confidence," Reed says.

Nominet's survey shows CISOs and other security leaders in the US are generally much more upbeat than their counterparts in the UK when it comes to the effectiveness of their security controls. Culture is likely a factor, according to the company, but the bigger reason is a majority of the US organizations represented in the survey are big companies with typically tighter procurement processes.

The vendor discovered a majority of organizations (68%) that had experienced a security breach over the previous 12 months to be somewhat apprehensive about their ability to defend and recover from a second one. Here again, US-based security leaders appear more bullish than their UK counterparts.

"This could be explained by the cultural and contextual differences between the US and UK," Reed says. "What might reassure a CISO in the US won't necessarily have the same effect in the UK." The key to keep in mind is that confidence isn't necessarily always connected to how well equipped a company is to defend against an attack.

"It is critical that security professionals and the wider business are on the same page when it comes to cyber defense," Reed notes.

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Check out The Edge, Dark Reading's new section for features, threat data, and in-depth perspectives. Today's top story: "Account Fraud Harder to Detect as Criminals Move from Bots to 'Sweat Shops'."

Jai Vijayan is a seasoned technology reporter with over 20 years of experience in IT trade journalism. He was most recently a Senior Editor at Computerworld, where he covered information security and data privacy issues for the publication. Over the course of his 20-year ... View Full Bio

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