Cyber-attack risk soars in time of COVID

Organisations are paying off post-pandemic compliance debt in 2021, warns NCC Group

Budget cuts, redundancies, delays to cyber resilience projects and increased remote working have all fed into increased cyber-attack threat levels, according to new research into cyber security decision makers from NCC Group.

The results show that 40% of respondents froze recruitment in cyber, 29% made redundancies and one in five furloughed staff responsible for cyber resilience programs in 2020. Three in 10 experienced delays or cancellations to their cyber resilience projects and 27% reported cuts to their cyber resilience budgets.

However, the data suggests that these measures could have negatively affected security postures: over 70% of organisations that cut budgets, made redundancies or delayed or cancelled their cyber projects reported an increase in cyber-attacks.

Meanwhile, half of the decision makers reported an increase in remote working, with 66% of those that did so witnessing an increase in phishing and ransomware attacks. This operational shift also exposed concerns around the impact of people on cyber resilience: of the 39% that reported an increase in insider threats, 51% believed that an increase in remote working was the cause.

Encouragingly, two thirds of decision makers claimed that they would increase the total amount spent on cyber security this year, with “making security improvements” the highest priority area for investment.

Respondents also recognised the role that people play in maintaining cyber resilience, with 66% admitting that an internal skills shortage was their main challenge for the next 6-12 months. To address this shortage, two-thirds of organisations plan to increase their amount of outsourced cyber resilience work in 2021.

Although the majority plan to increase cyber budgets, challenges around investment decisions remain: over 90% of respondents struggle to accurately assess or quantify the cost versus benefit of cyber security measures. Of those that claim cyber security is not a high priority, 23% said they don’t have the buy-in of senior management and 19% claim investment is focused in other areas. “The operational challenges that organisations faced in the last 12 months have resulted in a compliance debt that must now be paid off,” states Ian Thomas, managing director at NCC Group. “While it is encouraging to see that organisations recognise that they must make up lost ground by investing in cyber, it is crucial that this investment is used in the right areas. By addressing internal skills shortages and validating cyber investment against recognised benchmarks, organisations can build a secure platform for growth and maintain cyber resilience in this difficult period.”