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ThoughtLab reveals 10 best practices for cybersecurity in 2022

By Catherine Knowles
Fri 13 May 2022

ThoughtLab, the global research firm, has announced the findings of its 2022 cybersecurity benchmarking study, Cybersecurity Solutions for a Riskier World.

The study analysed the cybersecurity strategies and results of 1,200 large organisations across 14 different sectors and 16 countries, representing $125.2 billion of annual cybersecurity spending.

The research revealed that the pandemic has brought cybersecurity to a critical inflection point. The number of material breaches respondents suffered rose 20.5% from 2020 to 2021, and cybersecurity budgets as a percentage of firms’ total revenue jumped 51%, from 0.53% to 0.80%.

During that time, cybersecurity became a strategic business imperative, requiring CEOs and their management teams to work together to meet the higher expectations of regulators, shareholders and the board.

In addition, the role of the chief information security officer (CISO) expanded, with many taking on responsibility for data security (49%), customer and insider fraud (44%), supply chain management (34%), enterprise and geopolitical risk management (30%), and digital transformation and business strategy (29%).

Yet 29% of CEOs and CISOs and 40% of chief security officers admit their organisations are unprepared for a rapidly changing threat landscape.

The reasons cited include the complexity of supply chains (44%), the fast pace of digital innovation (41%), inadequate cybersecurity budgets and lack of executive support (both 28%), convergence of digital and physical assets (25%), and shortage of talent (24%).

The highest percentages of unprepared organisations were in critical infrastructure industries: healthcare (35%), the public sector (34%), telecoms (31%), and aerospace and defence (31%).

Over the next two years, security executives expect an increase in attacks from social engineering and ransomware as nation-states and cybercriminals become more prolific, according to the report.

Executives anticipate that these attacks will target weak spots primarily caused by software misconfigurations (49%), human error (40%), poor maintenance (40%) and unknown assets (30%).

As part of ThoughtLab’s evidence-based research, its economists assessed the cybersecurity performance of corporate and government organisations against 26 metrics, including times to detect, respond to and mitigate a cybersecurity breach, as well as the number of material breaches suffered.

The benchmarking study revealed 10 best practices that can reduce the probability of a material breach and the time it takes to find and respond to those that happen. These are as follows.

1. Take cybersecurity maturity to the highest level. Organisations that are most advanced in applying the NIST cybersecurity framework outperform others on key metrics, such as time to detect a breach (119 days for advanced vs. 132 days for others). They also have fewer annual material breaches (0.76 for advanced vs. 0.81 for others).

2. Ensure cybersecurity budgets are adequate. ThoughtLab’s analysis found a clear correlation between investment and results. Respondents reporting multiple material breaches in 2021 spent 12.3% of their total IT spending on cybersecurity, while those reporting no material breaches in 2021 spent an average of 12.8%, or $4.7 million more. Organisations that spent more also reported faster times to detect and mitigate a breach.

3. Build a rigorous risk-based approach. On average, risk-based leaders - i.e., those most advanced in quantitative analysis of risk probabilities and impacts - saw 22.5 incidents and 0.75 material breaches in 2021, vs. 27.1 incidents and 0.88 material breaches for risk-based beginners. In addition, 50% of top performers in time to mitigate took a risk-based approach vs. 17% of poor performers.

4. Make cybersecurity people centric. Cybersecurity is as much about humans as it is about technology. Organisations see fewer breaches and faster times to respond when they build a "human layer" of security, create a culture sensitive to cybersecurity risks, build more effective training programs, and develop clear processes for recruiting and retaining cyber staff.

5. Secure the supply chain. For 44% of respondents, the growing use of suppliers is exposing them to major cybersecurity risks. Top performers in time to detect, respond, and mitigate are far more mature in supply chain security. For example, over half of organisations with excellent times to detect are advanced in supply chain security vs. 25% of those with poor times to detect.

6. Draw on latest technologies but avoid product proliferation. Organisations with no breaches invest in a mix of solutions, from the fundamentals such as email security and identity management, to more specialised tools such as security information and event management systems (SIEMs). These organisations are also more likely to take a multi-layered, multi-vendor security approach to monitor and manage risks better through a strong infrastructure.

7. Prioritise protection of links between information and operating technologies. With digital and physical worlds converging, the attack surfaces for respondents are widening. Organisations that prioritise protection of interconnected IT and OT assets experience fewer material breaches and faster times to detect and respond.

8. Harness intelligent automation. Automation, combined with AI and orchestration, helps CISOs deliver results while freeing up staff from mundane tasks. For example, about three out of 10 organisations with excellent dwell times (the time to detect and remediate) use smart automation vs. 17% of organisations with poor dwell times.

9. Improve security controls for expanded attack surfaces. Attack surfaces widened during the pandemic because of greater digital transformation, cloud migration, remote working, and supply chain complexity. Our research shows that more companies need to put security controls in place to cover their expanding technology environments.

10. Do more to measure performance. Currently organisations track just 4.2 cybersecurity metrics on average. Executive teams that are more assiduous - monitoring six or more metrics - experience fewer incidents and material breaches. They also respond faster to attacks.

The research program drew on the expertise of a group of cybersecurity leaders and experts from across the private sector, government and academia.

The group includes global consulting sponsor Booz Allen Hamilton; lead sponsors Elastic, KnowBe4, Skybox Security, Securonix, Claroty, Axis Communications, Votiro, and Zenkey; supporting sponsors ServiceNow, CyberCube, and Resolute Strategic Services; and research partners Internet Security Alliance and ISF.

The advisory board consists of CISOs and other cybersecurity experts from a cross-section of industries.

ThoughtLab CEO and the program's research director Lou Celi says, "The move to digital during the pandemic - and now escalating geopolitical tensions - are ushering in a new era of cybersecurity risk that will require stronger leadership and wider teamwork among C-Suite executives and their staffs.

"While there is no silver bullet, our evidence-based research reveals that organisations need to take their cybersecurity programs to a higher level of excellence by ensuring they are proactive, risk-based, human-centric, digitally advanced, and properly resourced."

Booz Allen Hamilton vice president Paul Sussman says, "This landmark study fills a growing need for industry-specific cybersecurity metrics that companies can use to measure their performance against their peers. The research shows that firms have made considerable progress against cybersecurity frameworks like NIST, but they need to do more to keep their organisations safe."

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