Sophos says Aussie security sector’s biggest challenge is still awareness

Aaron Bugal, Global Solutions Engineer, APJ, at Sophos

Sophos, a cybersecurity firm, announced the findings of the third edition of The Future of Cybersecurity in Asia Pacific and Japan, in collaboration with Tech Research Asia (TRA). The study reveals a lack of awareness of cybersecurity, and a broad assumption from executives that their firm will never get attacked, despite rising ransomware incidences, impact and cost.

What were the key insights of Sophos’ report?

The Key findings of Sophos’ research included;

Cybersecurity education is an issue, and it starts at the top

Despite cybersecurity expenditure and self-assessed maturity increasing in APAC and Japan (APJ) firms over the past 12 months, only 52% of Australian companies surveyed believe their board truly understands cybersecurity. In addition, the top frustration expressed by cybersecurity professionals in Australia is that cybersecurity is frequently relegated in priority.

80% of respondents believe cybersecurity vendors don’t provide them with the data they need to help educate executives, and 95% of Aussie firms agree their biggest security challenge in the next 24 months will be wareness and education of employees and leadership.

The top two attack vectors of concern for APJ organisations are addressable by ongoing education: phishing or whaling attacks, and weak or compromised employee credentials.

“With ransomware attacks becoming more complex, firms need a genuine, actionable cybersecurity education program,” Aaron Bugal, global solutions engineer, APJ, at Sophos.

“The current reactionary tendencies we’re seeing have created an ‘attack, change, attack, change …’ cycle regarding strategies, which is putting teams constantly on the backfoot. Shifting priorities to become more proactive must start at the top and requires direction from executives, including investments in awareness and education across entire organisations.”

The skills shortage continues to wreak havoc

The skills shortage continues to be a key focus area in organisations across the region. 69% of Australian firms surveyed expect to have some problems with recruiting cybersecurity employees over the coming 24 months; 15 per cent expect to face a major challenge.

With recruiting continuing to pose issues, companies have identified the priority areas they feel skills and capabilities need to be increased for internal security specialists. These include:

  • Cloud security policies and architecture
  • ‘Train the trainer’ employee and executive cybersecurity training skills
  • Software vulnerability testing
  • Staying up to date with the latest threats
  • Policy compliance and reporting

Cybersecurity professionals’ top frustrations

The survey also highlights that cybersecurity professionals face a variety of challenges and frustrations in their roles, most of which are related to awareness, perception, messaging, and education. The top three frustrations in Australia are:

  • Cybersecurity is frequently relegated in priority
  • There is not enough budget for security
  • Executives assume cybersecurity is easy and personnel over exaggerate threats

Additional frustrations experienced by cybersecurity professionals across the region include:

  • Executives thinking there is nothing that can be done to stop attacks
  • Inability to keep up with pace of security threats
  • Not enough investment and time into training general staff

“Cybersecurity professionals continue to face many frustrations in their roles this year, with many feeling their warnings and messages fall on deaf ears. Apart from lacking skilled security specialists, many of the other frustrations are directly addressable through education and awareness programs, starting at the executive and board level,” Aaron Bugal commented.

“The challenge for personnel faced with low levels of security understanding among company boards is that many are unlikely to invest in programs to alleviate these frustrations.”

“The issue isn’t tech, it’s education. Increasing spend on cybersecurity won’t help unless firms understand from the top down the true nature and critical threat that cyberattacks constitute to their organisational capabilities, their customers and their own existence,” he added.

How can we raise awareness in the organisation?

Cybersecurity education must therefore become a focus. The following is a five-step approach to help bring organisations up to speed on cybersecurity education:

  1. Boards need help to understand it’s impossible to protect everything, and learn to prioritise the most critical information, data and systems to protect.
  2. Education courses on basic principles, genuine likelihood of an attack, attack vectors, threat actors, and other terminology should be available to all staff.
  3. Once basics are clearly defined, organisations need to develop strategy and integrate with digital transformation programs.
  4. The focus then becomes more operational in nature: applying legislation, breach response protocol, ransom payment policy, gap assessments, and future roles and obligations.
  5. Businesses need to clearly understand compliance, the regulatory environment under which the business operates, what’s legally required when breached and what are the appropriate controls around data security and management.