Cybersecurity Must Be the Top Priority for the Board in 2021

Alongside new technologies, the geopolitical arena will continue to be complex, turbulent and fragile in 2021. Economic conditions will also have an impact as governments look to invest in technology to stimulate growth while the power and influence big tech giants have on politics and society will lead to social disillusionment. Privacy regulations and environmental factors will also have their role to play in creating the overall security picture.

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The impact will be felt from top to bottom within the organization – and nowhere more so than in the boardroom. Put simply: businesses can no longer afford to ignore cybersecurity. Senior management and the Board must urgently tackle the issue and make the security of their systems and technologies, both existing and new, a key focus. This must then filter down from the top into day-to-day business functions such as Human Resources (HR) and marketing. Not only will this protect companies against the emerging onslaught of new threats, it will also create an important differentiator for organizations and help protect their bottom line and customers for years to come.

Enter the COVID-19 Pandemic

We are living in extraordinary and disconcerting times.

COVID-19 has hit the world’s economy hard, creating a high volume of uncertainty within organizations. The impact and disruption COVID-19 are having on organizations around the world is unprecedented, creating considerable challenges for supply chain management, business continuity and risk management. In the face of the worst global crisis in recent memory, security professionals need to be proactive to get ahead of impending incidents.

In the context of an international pandemic, the risk lens unavoidably turns to its immediate impact on business operations. However, it is important to maintain awareness of the risks associated with cyber. As COVID-19 continues to disrupt global health, economic, political and social systems, there’s another hidden threat rising in the digital space, and that is the risk of cyberattacks that prey on our increased dependence on technology and the uncertainty of this continuing, global crisis. 

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The Year Ahead

 In the year ahead, organizations must prepare for the unknown, so they have the flexibility to endure unexpected and high impact security events. To take advantage of emerging trends in both technology and cyberspace, businesses need to manage risks in ways beyond those traditionally handled by the information security function, since innovative attacks will most certainly impact both business reputation and shareholder value.

After reviewing the current threat landscape, there are five dominant security threats that businesses need to prepare for in 2021. These include, but are not limited to:

  • Cybercrime: Malware, ID Theft, Ransomware and Network Attacks
  • Insider Threats are Real
  • The Digital Generation Becomes the Scammer’s Dream
  • Edge Computing Pushes Security to the Brink
  • Rushed Digital Transformations Destroy Trust

You can find an overview for each of these areas below: 

Cybercrime: Malware, ID Theft, Ransomware and Network Attacks

We have seen an increase in cybercrime targeting the COVID-19 “opportunity”.

Not restricted to ransomware attacks on hospitals, this has also seen targeting of remote workers who are accessing corporate systems. Setting up fraudulent charities, fraudulent loans, extortion along with an increase in traditional phishing and malware are all on the increase. The changing threat landscape requires risk management and security practitioners to pay close attention to how exposures change over the coming months and the circumstances that influence the level of protection. 

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Insider Threats are Real

The insider threat is one of the greatest drivers of security risks that organizations face as a malicious insider utilizes credentials to gain access to a given organization’s critical assets. Many organizations are challenged to detect internal nefarious acts, often due to limited access controls and the ability to detect unusual activity once someone is already inside their network. The threat from malicious insider activity is an increasing concern, especially for financial institutions, and will continue to be so in 2021. 

The Digital Generation Becomes the Scammer’s Dream

The next generation of employees will enter the workplace, introducing new information security concerns to organizations. Their attitudes toward sharing information will fall short of the requirements for good information security. Reckless attitudes to sharing information online will set new norms for security and privacy, undermining awareness activities; attackers will use sophisticated social engineering techniques to manipulate individuals into giving up their employer’s critical information assets. 

Edge Computing Pushes Security to the Brink

Edge computing will be an attractive architectural choice for organizations; however, it will also become a key target for attackers. It will create numerous points of failure and will lose many benefits of traditional security solutions. Organizations will lose the visibility, security and analysis capabilities associated with cloud service providers; attackers will exploit blind spots, targeting devices on the periphery of the network environment, causing a significant downtime.

 Rushed Digital Transformations Destroy Trust

Organizations will undertake evermore complex digital transformations – deploying AI, blockchain or robotics – expecting them to seamlessly integrate with underlying systems. Those that get it wrong will have their data compromised. Consumers and dependent supply chains will lose trust in organizations that do not integrate systems and services effectively; new vulnerabilities and attack vectors will be introduced, attracting opportunistic attackers.

Involve the Board of Directors and Key Stakeholders

The executive team has the clearest, broadest view. A serious, shared commitment to common values and strategies is at the heart of a good working relationship between the C-suite and the board. Without sincere, ongoing collaboration, complex challenges like cybersecurity will be unmanageable. Covering all the bases—defense, risk management, prevention, detection, remediation, and incident response—is better achieved when leaders contribute from their expertise and use their unique vantage point to help set priorities and keep security efforts aligned with business objectives.

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The role of the C-Suite has undergone significant transformation over the past decade. Public scrutiny of business leaders is at an all-time high, in part due to massive hacks and data breaches. It has become increasingly clear in the last few years that in the event of a breach, the hacked organization will be blamed and held accountable. Given the rapid pace of business and technology, and the countless elements beyond the C-suite’s control, traditional risk management simply isn’t agile enough to deal with the perils of cyberspace activity.

Enterprise risk management must build on a foundation of preparedness to create risk resilience by evaluating threat vectors from a position of business acceptability and risk profiling. Leading the enterprise to a position of readiness, resilience and responsiveness is the surest way to secure assets and protect people.

Incidents will happen as it is impossible to avoid every breach. But you can commit to building a mature, realistic, broad-based, collaborative approach to cyber security and resilience. Maturing your organization’s ability to detect intrusions quickly and respond expeditiously will be of the highest importance in 2021 and beyond. 



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