Boards Still Struggle with Cybersecurity Management

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Cybersecurity as an issue has made it to the Boardroom for FTSE 350 companies, but the lack of management information and an understanding of their critical assets still eludes boards.

In a survey carried out by KPMG as part of the Government’s Cyber-Governance Health Check, there was some positive information when it comes to management’s awareness of cyber-issues. Nearly half (49%) of businesses place cyber-risk as a top/group risk when compared with other risks that a company faces—up from the 29% who did so in 2014.  And 63% of boards clearly set out their risk management approach in their annual reports.

Boards are also more likely to explicitly set their appetite for cyber-risk than in previous years. One third (33%) had this “clearly set and understood,” an improvement on the 18% who did so in 2014.

Further, 16% of boards have a very clear understanding of where the company’s key information/data assets are shared with third parties—up from 11% in 2014. And about half (49%) of boards have a clear understanding of the potential impact of loss/disruption of key information and data assets. Gone are the days of cyber-security as “just a technical issue.” Only 15% of boards said they view cyber-risk as a technical topic that does not warrant board level discussions. This is a major improvement from the 26% in 2014 and 46% in 2013 who thought that way.

However, for all of that good news, it’s clear that it remains stubbornly difficult for boards to get good management information to support their risk discussions. Only a fifth (21%) of respondents said that they received “comprehensive, generally informative” management information on cyber-threats, while 17% received “very little insight.”

“Cyber-attacks continue to pose a growing threat to business,” David Ferbrache, technical director in KPMG’s cybersecurity practice. “While cyber-security has made it onto the Board’s agenda, board judgements on risk are often based on incomplete and partial management information. Many boards believe they now have a handle on the issue, but can often focus on governance and driving compliance. Taken to extremes, this can stand in the way of a flexible and agile response to an evolving threat and actually increase risk.”

Frustratingly, for just over a half of boards (54%), cyber-risk is a subject that they hear about occasionally—either bi-annually or when something has gone wrong. This is a similar proportion to 2014.

“We need to guard against complacency,” said Ferbrache. “Cyber-security is getting boardroom time, but that is far from the end of [the] journey. Businesses need to understand what their risk profile really looks like, and set their risk appetite in a way that it can be tested and monitored. Most of all, they need to understand how to improve the cyber-resilience of their organization and make sure they are ready to respond to a rapidly changing cyber-threat, quickly and confidently.”

He added, “Board members need to take collective responsibility for cyber-security and consider it in every aspect of the business. If they can do that, then perhaps cyber-security will become mainstream and a vital component of doing business in our digital world.”

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