4 Reasons the C-Suite Isn't Paying Attention to Cybersecurity

By Aleksandr Yampolskiy

Posted on Jul 28, 2020

Data breaches and ransomware attacks are constantly making news headlines yet C-suites are giving these risks little to no mind share. One survey found that more than three-quarters (76%) of C-level executives say that a cybersecurity breach is inevitable. After all, if corporate leadership was really worried, many IT professionals believe, they would be spending more money on cybersecurity risk mitigation and vendor risk mitigation. The real issue underlying what superficially appears to be C-suite lack of attention is often the inability to engage in effective and meaningful communication about cybersecurity risk and threat mitigation strategies. Understanding how to bridge the technology-business language divide is one of the most effective ways to get the C-suite to pay attention to cybersecurity.

1. Lack of clear communication channels

    Cybersecurity professionals know that it takes a village to protect against cybercriminals. Creating a group consisting of internal stakeholders, however, becomes a challenge as organizations scale their business operations. Scheduling meetings and bringing together the necessary diverse team members creates a communications roadblock leaving key stakeholders adrift.

    For example, each department utilizes its own unique toolsets. Marketing needs customer relationship management (CRM) systems while human resources needs payroll systems. Each of these requires a set of controls to prevent cyberattacks. However, for a holistic approach to cyber threat mitigation, organizations need a single team consisting of all department heads to manage the full spectrum of applications, data, resources, and devices connected to a corporate network.

    According to the 2019 IBM Cost of a Data Breach Report, third-party involvement, compliance failures, extensive cloud migration, system complexity, and operational technology (OT) were the five factors that most contributed to data breach costs. These five factors underlie the importance of requiring a cross-functional team to establish communication channels for mitigating risk. As each department within an organization adopts its own unique set of business technologies, it must share that information and communicate risk with other enterprise leaders. Organizations can no longer assume that IT departments alone manage all technology adoption.

    Many organizations have communication silos preventing cross-functional risk mitigation. These silos create a visibility issue leaving the C-suite unable to fully assess the company’s risk posture.

    2. Inability to effectively communicate risk

      Once organizations tear down the communication walls and create effective cross-functional teams, IT professionals often use technical language to communicate risk which leaves many C-suite members adrift in the conversation. The C-suite focuses on business objectives such as revenue, product delivery, and customer service. The IT and security teams focus on mitigating the cybersecurity risks that come with the IT tools enabling business objectives.

      Problematically, the inability to effectively communicate cybersecurity risk as it relates to business operational goals makes it appear as though the C-suite fails to pay attention to cybersecurity risk. In reality, the C-suite needs a business level language for discussing the risk. IT and security professionals can point to DNS and IP addresses, SQL attacks, and encryption standards. However, for many C-suite members, this language does not connect to the risks they understand such as financial, compliance, legal, and reputational risk.

      To effectively communicate risk, security professionals need to be able to align the negative business impact that cyberattacks can cause. While risk matrices give visibility into high-risk systems, networks, software, and data, they often fail to connect meaningfully to financial and corporate impacts.

      3. Existing visibility gaps into third-party risk

        Even when IT and security staff manage to break down silos and effectively tie cyber risk to business objectives, many lack the tools necessary to provide visibility into the risks inherent across the company’s IT ecosystem. Interconnected application ecosystems that streamline business operations also change the nature of data collection and use. Organizations doubling down on cloud-first or cloud-only strategies to enable remote workforces no longer control all IT assets. Companies are effectively IT companies because they are using so much tech to drive their business, which inevitably increases cybersecurity risk.

        For example, organizations collect personally identifiable information (PII) from a variety of sources and users. Marketing departments collect inbound lead information. Procurement departments collect vendors’ account and payment information. Human resources departments collect employee information to enroll them in payroll and health insurance programs. This information becomes shared across the complex application integrations and cloud-based resources, requiring companies to prevent cyberattacks from exfiltrating the data.

        While C-suite members value this information and seek to mitigate risks, they also lack visibility into the extended supply chain. A company’s HR application also uses vendors, and those vendors use third-parties. In fact, industry analysts estimate that the SaaS market will grow by more than 20% annually, reaching nearly $200 billion by 2024. Each degree of separation creates a new attack vector that can lead to a data breach. Simultaneously, each degree of separation further obfuscates the risk, ultimately making it nearly impossible for the C-suite to fully assess cybersecurity risk across the IT ecosystem.

        4. Inability to connect IT security costs to the revenue stream

          Even when organizations can effectively connect cybersecurity risk to business operations, C-suite members may lack information positively connecting IT security costs to increased revenue. For the majority of organizations, the C-suite has one mission: to increase revenue. Meanwhile, budgetary constraints often leave cybersecurity teams scrambling to protect data while lacking the tools necessary to effectively do their jobs.

          For example, when a security team requests budget allocations for new tools or staffing, the C-suite sees this in terms of an operating cost rather than a revenue-generating expenditure. For each new staff member hired on the security team, the C-suite needs to increase revenue to pay for that new hire.

          In the alternative, security teams need to find ways to connect cybersecurity to increased revenue. Just as data breaches negatively impact the bottom line, proactive information security programs increase customer loyalty, ultimately drive increased revenue. According to the 2019 “State of the Connected Customer” report, 95% of customers say they are more likely to be loyal to a company they trust. Today’s customers increasingly understand the value of their data and are more willing to place trust in organizations that they know can prevent data breaches. To help bring greater organizational awareness to cybersecurity, IT departments and C-suite members need to discuss the positive revenue impact that a robust cybersecurity program has on customer loyalty and the sales cycle.

          SecurityScorecard: Creating a cross-functional language for cybersecurity

          SecurityScorecard’s security ratings platform bridges the language gap between an organization’s technical and business stakeholders. C-suite members are paying attention to cybersecurity risks, but connections between a robust cybersecurity posture and business-level objectives often miss their mark. SecurityScorecard’s easy-to-digest A-F ratings scale provides a common language for discussing cyber risk across ten risk factor groups.

          Research shows that companies with a C, D, or F score are five times more likely to experience a data breach. Aligning security ratings to mission-critical cybersecurity projects and continuously monitoring for controls’ weaknesses can build stronger relationships and more meaningful risk conversations for all IT and leadership stakeholders.

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