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CEOs and Board Members Crave IT Security Progress

Corporate risk management leaders must face the trade-off between delivering timely guidance and conducting detailed risk audit assessments. Meanwhile, the ability to protect assets, reputation and sustainability is becoming more challenging amid rapid shifts in the global economic environment.

Enterprise information technology (IT) security control failures were listed as the top emerging risk in the first quarter of 2021 during a poll of senior executives, according to the latest worldwide market study by Gartner.

Despite a myriad of potential risks resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic -- such as alternative work locations and Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) concerns -- cybersecurity risk was consistent across all global regions and most industries, cited by 67 percent of survey respondents.

Comprehensive IT Security Market Development

The next highest cited risk, "the new working model" was cited by 43 percent of respondents.

"Many organizations were forced to implement quick fixes to serious operational gaps as a result of their initial pandemic responses,” said Matt Shinkman, vice president at Gartner.

Nowhere has that been more apparent than in cybersecurity policies that have prioritized on-premises employee security over secure remote worker access. Gartner reports that executives responsible for these areas are realizing the time to enact more sustainable and robust IT policies is now.

Internal risks related to a company’s operational and cultural capacities continued to be most pressing to the executives polled and made up the top five emerging risks selected in 1Q21 -- despite no reprieve from external risks including navigating an uneven global vaccine rollout, added ESG regulatory requirements and looming potential changes to the corporate tax environment.

Gartner believes that the source of executive concerns about cybersecurity control failure comes from the hasty implementation of remote work brought on by the global pandemic and ensuing lockdowns.

IT teams were forced to quickly scale-up a virtual private network (VPN) access solution for the entire organization. CISOs and security teams had to immediately reorient their risk postures from a focus on securing on-premises operations to developing remote work access policies on the fly.

While access management issues were a focus of the initial response, the consensus among executives polled suggests that more work needs to be done as increased remote work becomes a permanent feature of the globally distributed workforce environment.

Previous Gartner research identified the key trends for IT security and risk management in 2021, with recommendations including a shift towards identity-first security and moving endpoint protection services to the public cloud.

In addition to ranking first on the list of emerging risks this quarter, cybersecurity control failures also ranked third overall in "risk velocity," an additional metric that Gartner tracks in their research.

When assessing risk velocity, Gartner analyzes executive polling data and overlays additional analysis of how fast-moving the risk is and how impactful it would be should it materialize.

Outlook for IT Security Audit and Compliance Services

According to the Gartner assessment, failures in cybersecurity control trailed only a protracted vaccine rollout and reputational risks from citizen journalism in the "risk velocity" analysis.

"Risk velocity can help executives see blind spots of emerging risks that might be moving towards an organization quickly, but aren’t appreciated yet by their peers," said Mr. Shinkman. "However, in the case of cybersecurity risk, it’s good to see that the level of awareness among executives matches the severity of the risk facing their organizations."

That said, I believe that the best IT security risk mitigation strategy is ongoing employee training and the adoption of comprehensive software solutions that protect all end-user devices from cyber threats.

CEOs and board members will likely require a progressive security approach that protects remote worker access to resources located in the corporate data center and SaaS offerings located on public cloud services. Therefore, I also anticipate that managed security audit and compliance services demand will rise during 2021 and beyond.

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