Cyber-Security Is a Top Priority in Corporate Boardrooms

A new survey from NYSE Governance Services and Veracode on current IT security attitudes and trends finds that boards are taking cyber-security very seriously.

corporate boardroom

Security vendor Veracode and NYSE (New York Stock Exchange) Governance Services released a study today that examines the role of cyber-security in the boardroom. Over the course of the last year, cyber-security has increasingly become top of mind for many, including corporate boardroom executives.

"We got some interesting results," Chris Wysopal, co-founder and CTO at Veracode, said about the survey, which included responses from 184 directors of public companies, including those in financial services, technology and health care. "One finding that was surprising is how seriously boards are taking security," he told eWEEK.

Forty-six percent of respondents said that cyber-security matters are discussed at most board meetings, while 35 percent noted that security is a topic at every meeting.

Board participation in cyber-security was noted in an IBM-sponsored 2015 Cost of Data Breach Study released May 27 as being a key factor in reducing costs. The report found that board-level involvement in security can reduce the costs associated with a data breach by approximately $5.50 per record.

Another indicator of the increased importance of cyber-security was found in the response to the question of who is responsible for cyber-security. Wysopal noted that the top response was the CEO, indicating the CEO is the one who is ultimately responsible.

"Interestingly enough, at No. 2 is the CIO, and No. 3 is the whole C-suite team, while the CISO [chief information security officer] came in fourth," he said. "The CISO isn't the punching bag anymore if there is a cyber-security incident, and boards are understanding that security is an enterprisewide risk issue and the whole senior executive team is responsible."

Wysopal noted that in his experience, the reporting structure for the CISO is also changing. For many organizations, the CISO reports to the CIO as a function of compliance. What is now happening in some organizations, however, is the CISO reports directly to the CEO and, in some organizations, to the chief financial officer (CFO). Overall, the role of the CISO is becoming more important in organizations as security has become a cross-enterprise risk function, he said.

While security is a topic of conversation at the board level, there isn't a great deal of confidence in how well organizations are protected against threats. Sixty-six percent of respondents to the study said they are "less than confident" that their companies are properly secured against cyber-attacks. Twenty-nine percent said they are confident in their organization's cyber-security efforts, while only 4 percent reported being very confident.

Another key topic addressed in the study is how cyber-security information should be presented to boards. Thirty-three percent reported that they want high-level security descriptions, while 31 percent prefer to see risk metrics. Only 11 percent of respondents noted that they want descriptions of security technologies.

"Boards want real numbers on the risk posture of the organization," Wysopal said. "They don't want to hear about technology, they don't care about 'firewall this' or 'encryption that'—they want high-level strategy."

One area that the study didn't specifically examine is how and where organizations are investing in cyber-security. Wysopal said it's difficult to make a direct connection between dollars spent and security risk reduction.

"Security is not a science. The best we can do today is look at how breaches are happening and understand what investments the breached organizations didn't make," he said.

Sean Michael Kerner is a senior editor at eWEEK and Follow him on Twitter @TechJournalist.

Sean Michael Kerner

Sean Michael Kerner

Sean Michael Kerner is an Internet consultant, strategist, and contributor to several leading IT business web sites.