Lack of rigor in measuring cyber risk leaves C-suite in the dark, Tenable study

Tenable, released the Measuring and Managing the Cyber Risks to Business Operations Report, an independent study conducted by Ponemon Institute. It found that 60% of organisations globally had suffered two or more business-disrupting cyber events — defined as cyberattacks causing data breaches or significant disruption and downtime to business operations, plant and operational equipment — in the last 24 months. Further, the vast majority of respondents 91% had suffered at least one such cyber event in the same time period.

Despite this documented history of damaging attacks, the study found that the majority of organisations 54% are not measuring, and therefore do not understand, the business costs of cyber risk. The report concludes that organisations are unable to make risk-based business decisions backed by accurate and quantifiable metrics, resulting in a lack of actionable insight for the C-suite and board of directors.

Digital transformation has created a complex computing environment of Cloud, DevOps, mobility and IoT, where everything is connected as part of the new, modern attack surface. This has created a massive gap in an organisation’s ability to truly understand its Cyber Exposure at any given time. The research — which surveyed 2,410 IT and infosec decision-makers in six countries — found less than one third 29% of respondents reported having sufficient visibility into their attack surface i.e. traditional IT, cloud, containers, IoT and operational technology to effectively reduce their exposure to risk.

To further complicate this lack of visibility, more than half of respondents 58% said their security function lacks adequate staffing to scan for vulnerabilities in a timely manner, with only 35% scanning when it’s deemed necessary by an assessment of risks to sensitive data. Together, these data points reveal that the tools and approaches organisations are using fail to provide the visibility and focus required to manage, measure and reduce cyber risk in the digital era.

Of those organisations that measure the business costs of cyber risk, 62% are not confident their metrics are actually accurate. Thus, decisions about the allocation of resources, investments in technologies and the prioritisation of threats are being made without critical information — such as the costs of IP theft, loss of revenue or loss of productivity. Organisations admit to not using the key performance indicators KPIs they consider important to assessing and understanding cyber risks:

  • 64% rated time to assess an essential KPI but only 49% actually measure it
  • 70% rated time to remediate an essential KPI but only 46% measure it
  • Only 30% of respondents believe their organisations can translate cyber risk KPIs into actionable steps

This lack of rigor leaves boards of directors in the dark about the true cost of cyber risks to their organisations. Without confidence in the accuracy of their measures, CISOs and other security executives are reluctant to share critical information about the business costs of cyber risks with their boards.

“In today’s digital economy, cyber risk equates to business risk. It’s shocking to learn that organisations are suffering business-impacting cyber events yet are struggling to accurately measure the resulting financial cost,” said Bob Huber, CSO, Tenable. “This study powerfully highlights that most organisations have not implemented security metrics that reflect cybersecurity’s role as a core business function. CISOs need reliable metrics to help them make educated decisions on the allocation of resources, investments in technology and the prioritisation of threats.”

The survey was completed by 2,410 IT and security professionals in the United States, United Kingdom, Germany, Australia, Mexico and Japan. All respondents have a role in the evaluation and management of investments in cybersecurity solutions within their organisation. Ponemon Institute conducts independent research on consumer trust, privacy, data protection and emerging data security technologies.