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Less Than Half of Security Pros Can Identify Their Organization's Level of Risk

Just 51% work with the business side of the house on risk reduction objectives, new study shows.

Security leaders still struggle to communicate their organization's cyber risk to business executives and the board. New research by Forrester and Tenable found that just four out of 10 security leaders can answer with a high level of confidence the question: "How secure, or at risk, are we?"

Heather Vallis, a principal consultant at Forrester who headed up the research project, says only two-thirds of business leaders say they were – at best – only somewhat confident in their security teams' ability to answer that question.  

"The core issue is that business and cybersecurity strategies are seldom on the same page," Vallis says. "Strategies are created in a vacuum, security leaders have an incomplete view into enterprise assets, benchmarking is limited, and cybersecurity metrics often lack business-risk context."

The study released today shows fewer than 50% of security leaders frame the impact of cybersecurity threats within the context of a specific business risk. And only about half (51%) say their security organizations work with business stakeholders to align cost, performance, and risk reduction objectives with business needs. Just four out of 10 (43%) say they regularly review the security organization's performance metrics with business stakeholders.

Vallis says security respondents answered a series of questions assessing their practices across oversight, technology, process, and people. Respondents scoring in the top 25% were categorized as "business-aligned," while those falling in the bottom 25% were "reactive and siloed." She says security leaders who take a proactive approach to risk that's aligned to the business are eight times as likely as their more reactive and siloed peers to be highly confident in their ability to quantify their organization's level of risk or security (72% vs. just 9%, respectively).

Nathan Wenzler, chief security strategist at Tenable, says security leaders have to move away from talking about how the company has performed in terms of industry benchmarks and instead show business leaders clear metrics on how they reduced risk.

"We have to explain how much security will cost, how much it will cost if we don't implement security, for example, what a ransomware incident could cost, and what the costs of a breach will be to the company's reputation," Wenzler says. "What happens often is that if nothing goes wrong business leaders will question why they need security in the first place."

Enter the BISO

Vallis says more companies need to consider putting in place a business information security officer (BISO). Business-aligned security leaders are more than two times as likely to have a BISO or similar exec who ensures each line of business works to minimize risk, maximize protection, and increase the value of the organization’s business information assets.

"These executives collaborate with line-of-business leaders to develop strategies, goals, and metrics to maximize the protection of business information assets," Vallis says. "They help bridge the 'language barrier' between security and business," she adds.

Tenable's Wenzler says the study demonstrates to the C-suite that these security issues are real – that there's some hard data around these very serious security realities they hear about and read about in the press. For example, 94% of security and business executives surveyed found that their organization have experienced a "business-impacting" cyberattack or compromise within the past 12 months.

Business-impacting means an attack that results in a loss of customer, employee, or other confidential data; an interruption of day-to-day operations; or a ransomware payout, other financial loss or theft of intellectual property. Some 65% say these attacks involved operational technology (OT) assets.

"That's a very powerful number, especially when talking to the executives in the C-suite," says Wenzler. "Security pros can now go to top management and offer proof that cyberattacks will impact their businesses and that they have to do something about it."

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Steve Zurier has more than 30 years of journalism and publishing experience and has covered networking, security, and IT as a writer and editor since 1992. Steve is based in Columbia, Md. View Full Bio

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