Majority of organisations unable to tackle cybersecurity, study shows

RSA’s survey shows troubling lack of maturity and an overreliance on prevention

Tags: EMC CorporationRSAUnited Arab Emirates
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Majority of organisations unable to tackle cybersecurity, study shows Yoran says more attention needs to be spent on strategy based on detection and response.
By  David Ndichu Published  July 2, 2015

RSA, the security division of EMC released its inaugural Cybersecurity Poverty Index that compiled survey results from more than 400 security professionals across 61 countries. Nearly 75% of all respondents self-reported insufficient levels of security maturity.

While larger organisations are typically thought of as having the resources to mount a more substantive cyber defence, the results of the survey indicate that size is not a determinant of strong cybersecurity maturity.

The survey allowed participants to self-assess the maturity of their cybersecurity programs leveraging the NIST Cybersecurity Framework (CSF) as the measuring stick. The research provides valuable global insight into how organizations rate their overall cybersecurity maturity and practices across a variety of organizational sizes, industries and geographies.

The lack of overall maturity is not surprising as many organizations surveyed reported security incidents that resulted in loss or damage to their operations over the past 12 months.  The most mature capability revealed in the research was the area of Protection.

The research results provide quantitative insight that organizations' most mature area of their cybersecurity program and capabilities are in preventative solutions despite the common understanding that preventative strategies and solutions alone are insufficient in the face of more advanced attacks. 

Further, the greatest weakness of the organizations surveyed is the ability to measure, assess and mitigate cybersecurity risk with 45% of those surveyed describing their capabilities in this area as "non-existent," or "ad hoc," and only 21% reporting that they are mature in this domain. This shortfall makes it difficult or impossible to prioritize security activity and investment, a foundational activity for any organization looking to improve their security capabilities today.

"This research demonstrates that enterprises continue to pour vast amounts of money into next generation firewalls, anti-virus, and advanced malware protection in the hopes of stopping advanced threats," said Amit Yoran, president, RSA. "Despite investment in these areas, however, even the biggest organizations still feel unprepared for the threats they are facing. We believe this dichotomy is a result of the failure of today's prevention-based security models to address the advancing threat landscape. We need to change the way we think about security and that starts by acknowledging that prevention alone is a failed strategy and more attention needs to be spent on strategy based on detection and response," he added.

Counter to expectations, the research indicates that the size of an organization is not an indicator of maturity.  In fact, 83% of organizations surveyed with more than 10,000+ employees rated their capabilities as less than "developed" in overall maturity. This result suggests that large organizations' overall experience and visibility into advanced threats dictate the need for greater maturity than their current standing. Large organizations' weak self-assessed maturity ratings indicate their understanding of the need to move to detect and response solutions and strategies for a more robust and mature security.

Also counterintuitive to expectations were the results from Financial Services organizations, a sector often cited as industry-leading in terms of security maturity. Despite conventional wisdom, however, the Financial Services organizations surveyed did not rank themselves as the most mature industry, with only one third rating as well-prepared. Critical infrastructure operators, the original target audience for the CSF, will need to make significant steps forward in their current levels of maturity. Organizations in the Telecommunications industry reported the highest level of maturity with 50% of respondents having developed or advantaged capabilities, while Government ranked last across industries in the survey, with only 18% of respondents ranking as developed or advantaged. The lower self-assessments of maturity in otherwise notably mature industries suggest a greater understanding of the advanced threat landscape and their need to build more mature capabilities to match it.  

Despite the fact that the CSF was developed in the United States, the reported maturity of organizations in the Americas ranked behind both APJ and EMEA.  Organizations in APJ reported the most mature security strategies with 39% ranked as developed or advantaged in overall maturity while only 26% of organizations in EMEA and 24% of organizations in the Americas rated as developed or advantaged.

 "Boeing has supported and contributed to the NIST Cybersecurity Framework from its inception. We use it as a basis to assess the overall security of both internal organizations and with external customers.  The CSF promotes a comprehensive, adaptable, risk based approach that is technology and regulatory neutral. As we have used the Framework, the results have had significant impact in explaining issues and setting the direction for future cyber security capability," said Stephen T. Whitlock, chief of strategy & technology, Information Security Solutions, Boeing

Methodology

To assess cybersecurity maturity, respondents self-assessed their capabilities against a sampling of the NIST Cybersecurity Framework (CSF). The CSF provides guidance based on existing standards, guidelines, and practices for reducing cyber risks, and was created through collaboration between industry and government. While the CSF was initially developed in the United States with the aim of helping to reduce cyber risks to critical infrastructure, organizations worldwide have found it to be a prioritized, flexible, repeatable, and cost-effective approach for managing cyber risk. Thus, it serves as an excellent baseline to assess any organization's core cyber security and cyber risk management maturity.

Organisations rated their own capabilities in the five key functions outlined by the CSF: Identify, Protect, Detect, Respond, and Recover. Ratings used a 5 point scale, with 1 signifying that the organization had no capability in a given area, and 5 indicating that they had highly mature practices in the area.

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