Study reveals cybersecurity confusion in the C-Suite

IBM Security and IBM’s Institute for Business Value have released a survey of more than 700 C-level executives, which found many leaders across the C-suite are confused about who the true cybersecurity adversary is and how to effectively combat them.

The new study, Securing the C-Suite, Cybersecurity Perspectives from the Boardroom and C-Suite, is based on interviews with CxOs, from 28 countries, across 18 industries, on cybersecurity in the enterprise. The research excluded the CISO to get a true picture of what everyone else in C-Suite thinks about cybersecurity. While on paper, cybersecurity is viewed as a top concern of 68% of CxOs, and 75% believe a comprehensive security plan is important, the study found key executives need to be more engaged with CISOs beyond planning for security, and take more active role.

A major finding of the study was that 70% of CxOs think rogue individuals make up the largest threat to their organizations. The reality is that 80% of cyberattacks are driven by highly organized crime rings in which data, tools and expertise are widely shared according to a United Nations report. The study found that a broad set of adversaries concerned the C-Suite including 54% who acknowledged crime rings were a concern, but they gave nearly equal weight of concern to competitors at 50%.


Over 50% of CEOs agree collaboration is necessary to combat cybercrime. Ironically, only one-third of CEOs expressed willingness to share their organization’s cybersecurity incident information externally. This exposes a resistance to widespread and coordinated industry collaboration, while hacking groups continue to perfect their ability to share information in near real-time on the Dark Web. CEOs also emphasize that external parties need to do more; stronger government oversight, increased industry collaboration and cross-border information sharing – a dichotomy that needs to be resolved.

“The world of cybercrime is evolving rapidly but many C-Suite executives have not updated their understanding of the threats,” said Caleb Barlow, Vice President, IBM Security. “While CISOs and the Board can help provide the appropriate guidance and tools, CxOs in Marketing, Human Resources, and Finance, some of the most sensitive and data-heavy departments, should be more proactively involved in security decisions with the CISO.”

In fact, Marketing, Human Resources, and Finance departments represent prime targets for cybercriminals as they manage some of the most sensitive customer and employee data, manage corporate financials and have access to banking details. In the study, roughly 60% of CFOs, CHROs, and CMOs readily acknowledge they, and by extension their divisions, are not actively engaged in cybersecurity strategy and execution. For example, only 57% of CHRO’s report they have rolled out employee training that addresses cybersecurity, a first step in getting employees engaged on cybersecurity.

In thie video below, Marc van Zadelhoff, General Manager of IBM Security, Caleb Barlow, VP of IBM Security, and Eric Lesser, Research Director of IBM Institute for Business Value will share some of the latest insights from this C-Suite research.

What Organizations Can Do

An overwhelming number of the CxOs surveyed, 94%, believe there is some probability that their company will experience a significant cybersecurity incident in the next two years. According to IBM’s analysis, 17% of the respondents feel prepared and capable to respond to these threats. IBM identified standout respondents to the survey, classifying 17% as “Cyber-Secure” respondents, the most prepared and capable CxOs. “Cyber Secure” leaders are two times more likely to have incorporated C-Suite collaboration into the cybersecurity program and two times more likely to have elevated cybersecurity to a regular agenda item at the Board level.


Cyber-Secure Tips for Organizations:

Understand the Risk: Evaluate your ecosystem for risks, conduct security risk assessments, develop education and training for employees and incorporate security into the enterprise risk plan.

Collaborate, Educate, Empower: Establish a security governance program, empower the CISO, elevate and regularly discuss cybersecurity at C-Suite meetings, include the C-suite in developing an incident response plan.

Manage Risk with Vigilance and Speed: Implement continuous security monitoring, leverage incident forensics, share and utilize threat intelligence to secure the environment, understand where the organization’s digital assets reside and develop mitigation plans accordingly, develop and enforce cybersecurity policies.

To download the full report and infographic, go to

Infographic: IBM