While larger organisations are typically thought of as having the resources to mount a more substantive cyber defence, a new survey indicates that size is not a determinant of strong cyber-security maturity and nearly 75% of all respondents self-reported insufficient levels of security maturity.
This is one of the findings from RSA, The Security Division of EMC, which has released its inaugural Cybersecurity Poverty Index that compiled survey results from more than 400 security professionals across 61 countries. The survey allowed participants to self-assess the maturity of their cyber-security programs leveraging the NIST Cybersecurity Framework (CSF) as the measuring stick. The research provides valuable global insight into how organisations rate their overall cyber-security maturity and practices across a variety of organisational sizes, industries and geographies.

The lack of overall maturity in cyber-security defence is not surprising as many organisations surveyed reported security incidents that resulted in loss or damage to their operations over the past 12 months.

The most mature capability revealed in the research was the area of Protection. The research results provide quantitative insight that organisations’ most mature area of their cyber-security program and capabilities are in preventative solutions despite the common understanding that preventative strategies and solutions alone are insufficient in the face of more advanced attacks.

Further, the greatest weakness of the organisations surveyed is the ability to measure, assess and mitigate cyber-security risk with 45% of those surveyed describing their capabilities in this area as “non-existent” or “ad hoc,” and only 21% reporting that they are mature in this domain. This shortfall makes it difficult or impossible to prioritize security activity and investment, a foundational activity for any organisation looking to improve their security capabilities today.

Contrary to expectations, the research indicates that the size of an organisation is not an indicator of maturity. In fact, 83% of organisations surveyed with more than 10 000 employees rated their capabilities as less than “developed” in overall maturity. This result suggests that large organisations’ overall experience and visibility into advanced threats dictate the need for greater maturity than their current standing. Large organisations’ weak self-assessed maturity ratings indicate their understanding of the need to move to detect and response solutions and strategies for a more robust and mature security.

Also counterintuitive to expectations were the results from financial services organisations, a sector often cited as industry-leading in terms of security maturity. Despite conventional wisdom, however, the financial services organisations surveyed did not rank themselves as the most mature industry, with only one third rating as well-prepared.

Critical infrastructure operators, the original target audience for the CSF, will need to make significant steps forward in their current levels of maturity. Organisations in the telecommunications industry reported the highest level of maturity with 50% of respondents having developed or advantaged capabilities, while government ranked last across industries in the survey, with only 18% of respondents ranking as developed or advantaged. The lower self-assessments of maturity in otherwise notably mature industries suggest a greater understanding of the advanced threat landscape and their need to build more mature capabilities to match it.

Despite the fact that the CSF was developed in the US, the reported maturity of organisations in the Americas ranked behind both APJ and EMEA. Organisations in APJ reported the most mature security strategies with 39% ranked as developed or advantaged in overall maturity while only 26% of organisations in EMEA and 24% of organisations in the Americas rated as developed or advantaged.

Amit Yoran, president of RSA, The Security Division of EMC, comments: “This research demonstrates that enterprises continue to pour vast amounts of money into next generation firewalls, anti-virus, and advanced malware protection in the hopes of stopping advanced threats. Despite investment in these areas, however, even the biggest organisations still feel unprepared for the threats they are facing.

“We believe this dichotomy is a result of the failure of today’s prevention-based security models to address the advancing threat landscape. We need to change the way we think about security and that starts by acknowledging that prevention alone is a failed strategy and more attention needs to be spent on strategy based on detection and response.