Netskope: CISOs Growing More Comfortable With Risk

Netskope has published new global research that finds that shifts in the cyber threats landscape have changed the way today’s Chief Information Security Officers (CISO) evaluate their business’ risk appetite. Specifically, 92% of CISOs report that these changes are creating tensions with their CEO and other members of the C-suite, and two-thirds (66%) say they are “walking a tightrope” between what the business wants and what makes sense from a security perspective.

The research surveyed more than 1,000 CISOs around the world to explore the evolution of the CISO role as a strategic member of the executive team. Contradicting legacy stereotypes of the CISO as inherently risk averse, only 16% of today’s CISOs classified their current risk appetite as low. In fact, CISOs see their CEOs as much more risk averse than themselves, with twice as many respondents (32%) perceiving their CEO as having a low-risk appetite.

Other findings expand upon the changing role of the CISO:

  • Over half of the CISOs who participated in the research (57%) said their appetite for risk has increased in the last five years. This may be despite the increasing volume and sophistication of cyber threats, or because of it: 74% state that a first-hand experience of a cyber security incident was important in impacting their risk comfort levels.
  • Better access to data and analytics (76%) was the top reason given for their shift in risk appetite.
  • Two thirds of CISOs (65%) now describe their responsibility in terms of improving business resilience, rather than managing cyber risk.
  • However, 23% of participating CISOs strongly agree that other members of the C-suite currently fail to see that the CISO role makes innovation possible.

The rise of the progressive CISO

Two thirds (65%) of CISOs surveyed believe the CISO role is changing rapidly, and they report becoming more proactive and progressive, a trend driven by the adoption of modern technology that creates new possibilities for driving innovation and business impact:

  • Just 36% of CISOs see themselves playing a “protector” role primarily focused on defending the organisation.
  • In contrast, 59% of CISOs now consider themselves to be business enablers, with 67% stating that they want to play an even more active role going forward.
  • 66% wish they could say “yes” to the business more often.

James Robinson, Netskope’s own CISO commented, “The research makes it clear that CISOs are generally hungry to play a more proactive role that enables innovation while also protecting the business. In my experience, the best way to make CISOs more proactive partners across the C-suite is to gain deep understanding of the business challenges C-suite colleagues are focused on solving and align those to security strategies, rather than attempt to assert security strategy – or individual technology choices – on what is perceived to be C-suite risk appetite. Too often this alignment doesn’t occur among enterprise teams. But CISOs who are able to define the ways in which they are helping their C-suite peers to acquire new revenues, drive efficiencies, and navigate regulatory requirements will be recognised as valuable contributors at the highest levels.”

Discussing the research, Steve Riley, Field CTO at Netskope, said; “With business technology and cyber threats evolving at a faster pace than ever, it is encouraging to see that CISOs are increasingly progressive in their thinking. CISOs clearly no longer feel the need to lock down access completely if it is to the detriment of the business. However, our findings show that the wider C-suite is not always ready for CISOs to break out of their traditional role as the protector of the business. To truly enable secure innovation and business transformation, security leaders need to bring their colleagues on the journey with them and help them to understand how buzz phrases like zero trust actually contribute to strategies that strike a balance between staying secure and getting work done.”

The research was conducted on behalf of Netskope by Censuswide and interviewed 1,031 CISOs worldwide across five markets (UK, North America, France, Germany, Japan) in a wide range of sectors including healthcare, retail, finance and industry.

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