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Outlook 2022: “Cybersecurity is on Top the Mind for CISOs”

Emile Abou Saleh, the Regional Director, Middle East & Africa at Proofpoint, says the shift to remote working has accelerated digital transformation and the move to the cloud

How was 2021 for the industry and your company?
The COVID-19 pandemic accelerated both planned and unplanned re-engineering of the IT environments across organizations to keep pace with hybrid working. In 2021, CISOs priorities have continued to focus on addressing enhanced cybersecurity risks due to workforces being outside the usual perimeters of the office.

According to Proofpoint’s latest research, 72% of CISOs in the UAE felt their businesses were unprepared to cope with a targeted cyberattack in 2021. Furthermore, there is still a strong perception of lack of support from the boardroom, with only 31% of CISOs in the UAE strongly agreeing that their boards see eye-to-eye with them on issues of cybersecurity.

As a result, cybersecurity tops the list of priorities for CISOs alongside cloud/cloud migration, customer experience, and digital transformation to meet an ever-increasing demand from the digital marketplace.

Throughout 2021 and beyond, Proofpoint’s people-centric approach to threat protection, information protection, and compliance, continues to protect customers from the risks they face in today’s active threat landscape, by putting people at the heart of cybersecurity strategies in the UAE and globally.

What sort of opportunities did 2021 bring along?
The COVID-19 pandemic and the changing business dynamics meant we had unprecedented opportunities knocking at our doors. Among others, we felt that data and cybersecurity was huge opportunity. Companies across all industries are scrambling to effectively protect their proprietary and customers’ data.

Proofpoint’s recent research revealed that CISOs in the UAE and KSA feel at risk of suffering material cyberattacks in the next 12 months, with phishing being a concern for nearly one-third of CISOs.

There was also a focus on accelerating automation, with intelligent decision-making. Automation was a big part of the digital shift due to the pandemic, enabling companies to mitigate person-to-person contact and optimize costs while ensuring uninterrupted operations.

Moreover, every organization, regardless of size, industry, or location, was forced to completely re-evaluate its operations – whether it was via implementing safety measures in the workplace or by transitioning completely to remote work. No company has remained untouched by COVID-19. This also opened up a lot of opportunities for cybercriminals to exploit the COVID-19 lures.

As the COVID-19 situation evolves, scammers continue to use social engineering to tie their attacks to the news agenda, from the appearance of the coronavirus to vaccines, pandemic financial relief or healthcare information. One such example is that of the increased volume of COVID-19 related credential theft campaigns, identified by Proofpoint researchers.

Did you face any challenges in 2021?
With the pandemic, organizations were forced to adopt innovative ways to stay afloat – remote or hybrid work, cloud computing, and digital transformation, posing new challenges for CIOs.

One key challenge is the shift to long-term hybrid working environments, as 66% of CISOs in the UAE agree that remote working has made their organization more vulnerable to targeted cyberattacks.

Cybersecurity teams around the world were challenged to enhance their security posture in this new and changing landscape, literally overnight. This required a balancing act between supporting remote work and avoiding business interruption while securing those environments.

The past year of disruption and uncertainty with the onset of the pandemic has further emboldened cybercriminals. The result is a broad and varied threat landscape, with numerous attack methods focused on users in relatively new working conditions across a much larger attack surface.

For instance, in the UAE, over two-thirds feel at risk of suffering a material cyberattack within the next 12 months. Furthermore, 71% of CISOs in the UAE are more concerned about the repercussions of a cyberattack in 2021 than they were in 2020, the highest percentage across the 14 global countries surveyed in Proofpoint’s 2021 Voice of CISO report.

What were your key achievements in 2021?
In this changing business landscape, Proofpoint has contributed immensely towards protecting the way people work with a unified platform that stops the most advanced threats, simplifies compliance, and improves incident responses.

What promises does 2022 bring along?
Despite widespread acknowledgment of the struggle to stay secure during the pandemic, most CISOs are hopeful in their outlook for 2022. Assuming appropriate strengthening and strategizing, 77% of CISOs in the UAE believe they will be better able to resist and recover from cyberattacks in the coming year.

In 2022, Proofpoint is committed to furthering its people-centric approach to security that protects organizations’ most important cybersecurity targets, its people.

With an integrated suite of cloud-based solutions, Proofpoint helps companies and their CISOs to stop targeted threats, safeguard their data, and make their users more resilient against cyber-attacks.

Other areas of focus are insider threats in the modern workplace as well as continued innovation, urgency, and speed in identifying potential threats — to keep customers a step ahead of the latest attacks.

Do you see opportunities in the regional markets with new markets opening up?
Yes, there will be huge opportunities for supporting remote working, enabling business innovation, and addressing supplier risks. As per our research, the top three priorities across the board for UAE CISOs over the next two years are: addressing supplier risk (29%), supporting remote working (28%), as well as enabling business innovation (28%).

According to you, which technologies will be in demand in 2022?
With remote and hybrid work becoming the norm, people are increasingly targeted when it comes to cyber threats, making a people-centric approach to cybersecurity necessary to fortify the human element against advanced threats, data loss, and compliance risks.

In the midst of this, technology solutions will focus on combatting email and cloud threats, data loss and insider risks, modernizing compliance and archiving, protecting cloud apps, defending remote workplaces, among others.

What will be your key focus areas for 2022?
At Proofpoint, we continue to focus on protecting the way people work today with a unified platform that stops today’s most advanced threats, simplifies compliance, and improves incident responses. Looking ahead, we are committed to our people-centric approach to security that protects organizations’ most important cybersecurity targets, its people.

With an integrated suite of cloud-based solutions, Proofpoint helps companies and their CISOs to stop targeted threats, safeguard their data, and make their users more resilient against cyber-attacks. Other areas of focus are insider threats in the modern workplace as well as continued innovation, urgency, and speed in identifying potential threats —to keep customers a step ahead of the latest attacks

What would you like to do differently in 2022, when compared with 2021?
The shift to remote working has accelerated digital transformation and the move to the cloud, expanding the attack surface for enterprises. Today, cybercriminals increasingly target people within organizations rather than systems or infrastructure. This requires a mind shift from IT security teams to take a people-centric approach to cybersecurity to combat threats effectively. Our focus is helping organizations easily identify vulnerable users.

Do you plan to enter new markets or add new products/applications to your portfolio in 2022?
Proofpoint is committed to its 100% channel go-to-market strategy globally and expanding to new markets amidst growing demand for our market-leading solutions. We are constantly looking at cybersecurity with a people-centric view and focus on solutions that protect the most targeted individuals across various industries globally.

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Chris Fernando

Chris N. Fernando is an experienced media professional with over two decades of journalistic experience. He is the Editor of Arabian Reseller magazine, the authoritative guide to the regional IT industry. Follow him on Twitter (@chris508) and Instagram (@chris2508).

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