UK Corporate confidence in cyber protection contrasts with lack of employee awareness of the threats

Two-thirds of UK companies believe they are ‘highly protected’ and can adequately react to threats, but low ‘cyber IQ’ among employees poses a threat

Two-thirds (63 percent) of UK businesses believe that their organisation is highly protected from attempts by outsiders to gain access to their systems and data, according to a survey by Willis Towers Watson. A similar proportion of organisations (66 percent) maintain that they have the right processes in place to adequately react to privacy and security threats.

The findings, from Willis Towers Watson’s Cyber Pulse Survey, study responses from organisations and their employees on cyber security practices across the United States and United Kingdom. The survey found that a majority of companies feel that they are adequately prepared for cyberattacks on their organisations, despite the frequency and breadth of impact of cyberattacks across industries in recent years seemingly indicating the contrary.

However, the Survey also found that the disparity between corporate feelings of preparedness and the increasing number of cybersecurity incidents could be a result of lack of responsibility or accountability among employees, the human element of the cyber equation. UK employees ranked ‘insufficient understanding’ (61 percent) as the biggest barrier to their organisation effectively managing its cyber risk. Nearly half (46 percent) spent 30 minutes or less on cybersecurity training in 2016, and over a quarter (27 percent) received none at all.

More concerning for employers is the discovery that of the employees that did complete cyber training, nearly two-thirds (62 percent) admitted they “only completed the training because it was required”, and nearly half (44 percent) believe that ‘opening any email on their work computer is safe’, suggesting that the employees may not be engaged or feel the personal accountability necessary to driving long-term, sustainable behaviours.

Anthony Dagostino, Head of Global Cyber Risk, Willis Towers Watson, said: “As the world has seen with the proliferation of phishing scams, most recently highlighted by the global WannaCry ransomware attack, the opening of just one suspicious email containing a harmful link or attachment can lead to a company-wide event. However there appears to be a disconnect between executive priorities around data protection and the need to invest in a cyber-savvy workforce through training, incentives and talent management strategies.”

Willis Towers Watson’s Survey also detailed additional barriers that companies feel impact their cyber preparedness and the degree to which corporations are providing cyber training to their employers. Some additional findings include:

  • Over 30 percent of employees surveyed have logged into their work-designated computer or mobile device over an unsecured public network (such as public Wi-Fi)
  • Only 40 percent of the employers surveyed felt that they have made progress addressing cybersecurity factors tied to human error and behaviors in the last three years

“Hackers are exploiting the fact that while corporations are building walls of technology around their organisations and their networks, by far   the biggest threat to corporate digital security and privacy continues to come from the employees within, often completely by accident,” said Dagostino. “A truly holistic cyber risk management strategy requires at its core a cyber-savvy workforce, however organisations first have to know where the vulnerabilities are in order to plug the gaps. Many organisations are facing talent deficiencies and skills shortages in their IT departments, which in turn are creating significant loopholes in their overall security measures. 

According to the Survey respondents, the costs associated with minimising cyber risk will continue to rise as technology evolves and becomes more sophisticated. This heavy emphasis on technology is crucial given the competing sophistication of cyber criminals, but it is also encouraging that human capital solutions and improvement of operating procedures will be a priority for over 70% of organisations in the next three years based on the Survey,” says Dagostino.