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Proofpoint’s “2022 Voice of the CISO Report” Offers Insights Into CISO Challenges, Expectations and Priorities

Proofpoint, Inc., a leading cybersecurity and compliance company, today released its annual Voice of the CISO report, which explores key challenges facing chief information security officers (CISOs). While the world’s CISOs spent 2021 coming to terms with new ways of working, many now feel much more in control of their environment: 44% of CISOs in the UAE feel that their organization is at risk of suffering a material cyber-attack in the next 12 months, down from 68% last year.

But feeling prepared for a cyber attack is vastly different than being prepared. This growing confidence of CISOs is likely a result of successfully overcoming a seismic event (the pandemic) rather than any tangible change in risk levels of preparedness. Our report reveals that 47% of CISOs in the UAE still feel their organization is unprepared to handle a cyberattack and 50% consider the human error to be their biggest cyber vulnerability, with established work-from-anywhere setups and The Great Resignation presenting new challenges around information protection.

This year’s Voice of the CISO report examines global third-party survey responses from more than 1,400 CISOs at mid-to-large size organizations across different industries. Throughout the course of Q1 2022, one hundred CISOs were interviewed in each market across 14 countries: the U.S., Canada, the UK, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Sweden, the Netherlands, UAE, KSA, Australia, Japan, and Singapore.

The survey explores three key areas: the threat risk and types of cyber attacks CISOs combat daily, the levels of employee and organizational preparedness facing them, and the impact of supporting a hybrid workforce as businesses prepare to re-open their corporate offices. It also uncovers the challenges CISOs experience in their roles, their position among the C-suite, and the business expectations of their teams.

“As high-profile attacks disrupted supply chains, made headlines, and prompted new cybersecurity legislation, 2021 proved to be another challenging time for CISOs around the world. But as CISOs adapt to new ways of working, it is encouraging to see that they now appear more confident about their security posture,” commented Andrew Rose, Resident CISO for EMEA at Proofpoint. “As the impact of the pandemic on security teams gradually fades, our 2022 report uncovers a pressing issue. As workers leave their jobs or opt-out of returning to the workforce, security teams are now managing a host of information protection vulnerabilities and insider threats.”

Proofpoint’s Voice of the CISO 2022 report highlights general trends as well as regional differences among the global CISO community. Key findings from the UAE respondents include:

  • CISOs in the UAE are more confident about their cyber security posture: after two years of unprecedented disruption, CISOs now feel more in control of their environment. Two in five surveyed (44%) feel that their organization is at risk of suffering a material cyber attack in the next 12 months, compared with 68% last year.
  • There is a lack of consensus among CISOs as to the most significant threats targeting their organization: this year, Business Email Compromise and Cloud Account Compromise (O365 or G suite accounts being compromised) topped the list for UAE CISOs, both at 35%. They were closely followed by insider threats–whether negligent, accidental, or criminal–with 31%. Despite dominating recent headlines, ransomware came in at 28%.

  • Organizational cyber preparedness has greatly improved: increasing familiarity with the post-pandemic work environment has also left CISOs feeling better equipped to deal with cyber threats. While 72% of CISOs believed they were unprepared for a targeted attack in 2021, this is down to 47% this year.
  • Employee security awareness is on the rise, but users are still not adequately skilled in the role of cyber defense: while 51% of UAE survey respondents believe employees understand their role in protecting their organization from cyber threats, 50% still consider the human error to be their organization’s biggest cyber vulnerability. Despite this, only 36% of UAE CISOs surveyed have increased the frequency of cyber security training for employees in the last 12 months.

  • Long-term hybrid work makes protecting data a top new challenge for CISOs: with employees now forming the defensive perimeter wherever they work, 32% of CISOs agree that they have seen an increase in targeted attacks in the last 12 months. And more than 1 in 3 (37%) say that increases in employee transitions mean that protecting data has become a greater challenge and investment in information protection is top of the list of priorities for the next two years. When asked how employees were most likely to cause a data breach, UAE CISOs named malicious insiders as the most likely vector, where employees intentionally steal company information.
  • Ransomware headlines have largely increased cyber risk awareness among the C-Suite and driven strategy shifts: recent high-profile attacks have pushed ransomware to the top of the agenda for organizations, with 41% of CISOs in the Emirates revealing they had purchased cyber insurance and 53% CISOs focusing on prevention over detection and response strategies. Despite the rising stakes, however, a concerning 53% of CISOs admit they have no ransom payment policy in place.

  • While CISOs feel less pressured, board buy-in remains precarious as cyber risk worries business leaders: 38% of CISOs feel that expectations of their role are excessive, down from 67% last year. However, the perceived lack of alignment with the boardroom has increased, with only 14% of UAE CISOs strongly agreeing that their board sees eye-to-eye with them on issues of cybersecurity. When considering cyber risk, Emirati CISOs listed significant downtime, impact on business valuation, and loss in revenue as top board concerns.

“After two years of unprecedented disruption and new ways of working, CISOs in the UAE have had to prioritize their efforts to address cyber threats targeting today’s distributed, hybrid workforce. Their focus has gravitated towards preventing the most likely attacks such as business email compromise, cloud account compromise, and insider threats,” said Emile Abou Saleh, Regional Director, Middle East & Africa at Proofpoint. “Overall, CISOs now feel more in control of their environment and maybe falling into a false sense of security. With our research revealing human error as an organization’s biggest cyber vulnerability, security awareness education across the organization should be a priority for CISOs to mitigate cybersecurity threats.”

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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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