Report reveals lack of boardroom awareness of cybersecurity

Sophos has announced the findings of the third edition of its survey report, The Future of Cybersecurity in Asia Pacific and Japan, in collaboration with Tech Research Asia (TRA). The study reveals a lack of boardroom awareness of cybersecurity, and a broad assumption from executives that their company will never get attacked, despite rising ransomware incidences, impact and cost.

Cybersecurity education is an issue, and it starts at the top

Despite cybersecurity expenditure and self-assessed maturity increasing in Asia Pacific and Japan (APJ) organisations over the past 12 months, only 37 per cent of companies in Singapore surveyed believe their board truly understands cybersecurity.

The top frustration expressed by cybersecurity professionals in Singapore is that executives assume cybersecurity is easy and cybersecurity professionals over exaggerate threats and issues.

89 per cent of respondents surveyed in Singapore also believe cybersecurity vendors do not provide them with the information they need to help educate executives, and 75 per cent of companies agree their biggest security challenge in the next 24 months will be the awareness and education of employees and leadership.

The top two attack vectors of concern for APJ organisations are directly addressable by ongoing education and awareness campaigns: phishing or whaling attacks, and weak or compromised employee credentials.

“With ransomware attacks continuing to become more complex, organisations need a genuine, actionable cybersecurity education program,” says Aaron Bugal, global solutions engineer, APJ, at Sophos.

The current reactionary tendencies we’re seeing have created an ‘attack, change, attack, change …’ cycle regarding cybersecurity strategies, which is putting cybersecurity teams constantly on the backfoot.

“Shifting priorities to become more proactive must start at the top and requires direction from executives, including investments in awareness and education across entire organisations,”

The skills shortage continues to wreak havoc

The skills shortage continues to be a key focus area in organisations across the region as well as in Singapore. Seventy-two per cent of Singapore firms surveyed expect to have some problems with recruiting cybersecurity employees over the coming 24 months; 21 per cent expect to face a major challenge.

With recruiting continuing to pose issues, companies have identified the priority areas they feel skills and capabilities need to be increased for internal security specialists. These include:

  • Cloud security policies and architecture
  • ‘Train the trainer’ employee and executive cybersecurity training skills
  • Software vulnerability testing
  • Staying up to date with the latest threats
  • Policy compliance and reporting

Cybersecurity professionals’ top frustrations

The survey also highlights that cybersecurity professionals face a variety of challenges and frustrations in their roles, most of which are related to awareness, perception, messaging, and education. The top three frustrations in Singapore are:

  1. Executives assuming cybersecurity is easy and cybersecurity personnel over exaggerate threats and issues
  2. An over-reliance on fear and doubt messaging makes it hard to educate executives
  3. Cybersecurity being frequently relegated in priority

Additional frustrations experienced by cybersecurity professionals across the region include:

  1. Executives thinking there is nothing that can be done to stop attacks
  2. Inability to keep up with pace of security threats
  3. Not enough investment and time into training general staff

“Cybersecurity professionals continue to face many frustrations in their roles this year, with many feeling their warnings and messages fall on deaf ears. Apart from lacking skilled security specialists, many of the other frustrations are directly addressable through education and awareness programs, starting at the executive and board level. The challenge for cybersecurity professionals faced with low levels of security understanding among company boards is that many are unlikely to invest in the necessary programs to alleviate these frustrations,” said Bugal.

“The issue isn’t technology, it’s education. Increasing spend on cybersecurity won’t help unless organisations understand from the top down the true nature and critical threat that cyberattacks constitute to their organisational capabilities, their customers and their own existence.”

Cybersecurity education must become a focus. The following is a five-step approach to help bring organisations up to speed on cybersecurity education:

  1. Boards need help to understand it’s impossible to protect everything, and learn to prioritise the most critical information, data and systems to protect.
  2. Education courses on basic principles, genuine likelihood of an attack, attack vectors, threat actors, and other terminology should be available to all staff.
  3. Once basics are clearly defined, organisations need to develop strategy and integrate with digital transformation programs.
  4. The focus then becomes more operational in nature: applying legislation, breach response protocol, ransom payment policy, gap assessments, and future roles and obligations.
  5. Businesses need to clearly understand compliance, the regulatory environment under which the business operates, what’s legally required when breached and what are the appropriate controls around data security and management.

Chester Wisniewski, principal research scientist at Sophos, had earlier commented in November 2021 on the importance of educating users, both corporate and private. “The world has made great progress in recent years in improving internet security,” he said. “We’ve strengthened the security baseline, making changes behind the scenes to how encryption is implemented to ensure our communications remain private. We’ve enhanced password managers to help protect users from themselves when faced with unencrypted sites, sites with forged certificates or overt phishing sites.

“But risks remain and there’s still a way to go. In too many cases, much of the responsibility for staying secure still rests with the user. Of course, there will always be a need for internet users to apply common sense and caution, especially when using unknown networks or visiting untrusted sites.

“Internet users also need to be wary of phishing emails posing as package delivery companies or similar businesses. But online vendors, technology and service providers as well as the cybersecurity industry need to understand and mitigate the security gaps that remain – particularly those that the users themselves cannot easily see  – because if we don’t address them now, we’ll fall even further behind when cyberattackers find new ways to target and exploit them or uncover new weak spots.”