Cyber Security

Nominet releases its report Trouble at the top: The boardroom battle for cyber supremacy, which reveals the attitudes of enterprise boards towards cyber attacks. It highlights a number of knowledge gaps, a lack of resources, and disagreements and discrepancies about who is actually in charge of responding to a breach.

FieldHouse Associates

The research surveyed more than 400 C-suite executives from enterprises across the UK and USA, each overseeing businesses with over 8,000 employees.

Facing the inevitable

The threat to businesses cyber security is at a critical level, as more than three-quarters (76%) of C-level executives say that a cyber security breach is inevitable.

Despite this acceptance, the majority (90%) of respondents believe their company is missing at least one resource that would help them defend against a severe cyber attack – with the most common missing component being advanced technology (59%).

However, the problem goes deeper than that. There are more human factors at play, with senior management reluctant to accept advice (46%); a lack of budget (44%), and a lack of people resources (41%). All three of these things are considered to be major components of a secure and effective cyber security strategy.

Who rules the roost?

There is also confusion at board level as to who is ultimately responsible for the immediate response to a data breach. More than a third (35%) of those surveyed believe that the CEO is in charge of the business’ response to a data breach – with a little less than a third (32%) saying it’s down to the CISO.

Despite this, the majority (71%) of the C-suite concede that they have gaps in their knowledge when it comes to some of the main cyber threats facing businesses today; the most common of which being malware (78%). This is alarming, given the fact that 70% of businesses admit to having found malware hidden on their networks for an unknown period of time – in some cases, for over a year.

When a security breach does happen, in the majority of businesses surveyed, it’s first reported to the security team (70%) or the executive/senior management team (61%). In less than half of cases is it reported to the board (40%).

This could be because of an uncomfortable truth: one-third of CEOs state that they would terminate the contract of those responsible for a data breach.

A lack of collaboration

Once a breach has occurred, there are discrepancies regarding collaboration at the top when it comes to resolving the issue. When surveyed, more than half (54%) of CISOs said they would receive assistance from other members of the C-suite. Conversely, nearly two-fifths (38%) of those board members say they would work with the security team to solve a cyber security issue.

This confusion may be a factor in the way that CISOs feel about their place in the workplace. Just half of CISOs say they feel valued by the rest of the executive team from a revenue and brand protection standpoint. Perhaps more worrying is the fact that nearly a fifth (18%) of CISOs say they believe the board is indifferent to the security team or actually saw them as an inconvenience.

In reality, support for the CISOs is actually higher than they may realise. CISOs perceive  that just 52% of their board of directors sees them as a ‘must have’, but the reality is that three quarters (76%) of C-level executives feel that way.

And while this may be the case, the feeling of not being valued is having a damaging effect on the CISO. Over a quarter (27%) said the stress of their job is impacting their physical or mental health. Just as worryingly, nearly a quarter (23%) admitted that the job had also affected their personal relationships. As more of a professional concern, 28% of CISOs also admit that stress levels are having an adverse effect on their ability to do their job.

Russell Haworth, CEO of Nominet, said: “This research is very much a case of the good, the bad, and the ugly. It’s good to see that business leaders are aligned on the fact that cyber attacks are pretty much an inevitable part of working life. Acceptance is the first step to protection. There’s also a dedication to keeping customer and client data safe.

“But the bad comes with the power struggle at the top, with confusion over who should actually take responsibility in case of a data breach or cyber attack, which is detrimental to the safety and security of the business. And the ugly is how CISOs feel within their organisation. There’s a clear disconnect between how valued they feel, and how valued they actually are. Whether that’s CISOs misunderstanding how important they are, or the board failing to communicate this to them, I’m unclear. What is abundantly obvious though is that there’s still a lot of work to be done. Boards and CISOs need to sit down and agree exactly what the responsibility of the CISO is, and exactly who’s in charge of the business’ response to the pervasive cyber threat.”

A copy of the full report, which goes into the survey’s findings in more detail, can be found at