Cyber security decision makers hit by perfect storm on regulation, threats, technical complexity and skills shortage


Symantec Report Reveals Mounting Pressures on Security Leaders

A perfect storm of regulation, increased threats and technological complexity is overwhelming cyber security decision makers, reveals new research from Symantec. Four in five (82 percent) security leaders across France, Germany and the UK report feeling burned out, whilst just under two-thirds (63 percent) think about leaving the industry or quitting their job (64 percent).

Surveying 3,045 cyber security decision makers across the across France, Germany and the UK, the research - conducted by Symantec in collaboration with Dr Chris Brauer, Goldsmiths, University of London - reveals mounting pressure on the security profession.

The leading source of stress for cyber security leaders is government regulation. Four in five (86 percent total, 81 percent UK) reported that mounting regulation, such as GDPR and the NIS Directive, was increasing their stress. Two in five (40 percent total, 33 percent UK) reported concerns that they would be held personally liable for a data breach. Just over half ( 55 percent total, 37 percent UK) feared dismissal if a breach happened on their watch. Insufficiently skilled staff (80 percent total, 70 percent UK), the size and complexity of the estate to be defended (82 percent total, 70 percent UK), and the increasing volume of threats (82 percent total, 69 percent UK) are also major contributors to stress.

“Stress dramatically impacts our ability to make good decisions,” said Dr Chris Brauer, Director of Innovation, Goldsmiths, University of London. “It impairs your memory, disrupts rational thinking and negatively impacts every cognitive function you have. In an industry like cyber security, which requires focus, creative thinking, attention to detail and rational decisions in high pressure scenarios – stress can be crippling. Highly stressed workers are far more likely to be disengaged and ultimately quit. In an industry already suffering a skills shortage, this kind of stress can present a significant risk.”

On High Alert

Ironically, efforts to protect the enterprise are also increasing stress:

  • 79 percent (62 percent UK)) reported that managing ‘too many cyber defence products or vendors’ was increasing their stress levels
  • Two-thirds (68 percent total, 54 percent UK) of cyber-security decision makers said they’d felt ‘paralysed’ by the overwhelming volume of threat alerts
  • A third (33 percent total, 28 percent UK) reported that threat alerts, designed to help keep a business safe, are making the situation worse due to their sheer volume
  • In the face of such huge workloads, the majority of security professionals (67 percent total, 54 percent UK) said their cyber security teams left work at the end of the day with threat alerts left unreviewed

This volume is impacting the security of enterprises:

  • Already 41 percent (46 percent UK) agree a breach is inevitable
  • A third (32 percent total, 28 percent UK) say their organisation is currently vulnerable to avoidable cyber security incidents
  • A quarter (26 percent total, 22 percent UK) admitted they have already suffered an avoidable cyber security incident

“For many CISOs, the job never stops,” said Darren Thomson, EMEA CTO, Symantec. “The current patchwork approach to security tooling and strategy is creating more problems than it solves. There so much daily noise that it’s near impossible to work out what might be a false positive and what might be a sign of a stealthy targeted attack. Meanwhile the overlaps and gaps between defensive systems present hackers with new opportunities for exploitation.”

The Challenge Ahead

Two-thirds of security leaders (65 percent total, 54 percent UK) feel they are being ‘set up for failure’. However, the overwhelming workload and pressure doesn’t seem to deter them. The vast majority of security leaders are adrenaline junkies, fully immersed in their work, even when it’s stressful (92 percent UK and total). Nine in ten are motivated by high pressure situations and 92 percent (UK and total) report that they find their work environment thrilling.

“This appetite for pressure is much needed, as the challenges cyber security professionals are facing is set to grow,” commented Darren Thomson, EMEA CTO, Symantec.

Many are already challenged by the pace of change and rapid growth of data. Four in five (82 percent total, 70 percent UK) report that having to secure too much data, in too many places, is making the job more stressful. Almost half (45 percent total, 37 percent UK) say technological change is occurring too quickly for their teams to adapt.

“Ever since the internet started connecting computers and systems, cyber defence has largely been a game of reactions,” continued Thomson. “With new technology, came new threats. As each new exploit emerged, a new defence was created. Organisations and the cyber security industry got sucked into an ever-accelerating game of whack-a-mole. There are now too many moles and too many hammers. It’s time for organisations to take a step back, and approach cyber defence in a far more effective way.”

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About the Research

The High Alert research study was conducted by Symantec in collaboration with Dr Chris Brauer, Director of Innovation, Goldsmiths, University of London and research consultancy Thread. The research was directed by Dr Chris Brauer and Dr Jennifer Barth and led by Sean Duggan. The German and French figures for the quantitative study are from Censuswide; the UK figures from YouGov.

Survey fieldwork was undertaken in Winter 2018. The research used quantitative methods to measure, define and distinguish the experiences of cyber-security professionals in leadership roles in three countries: France, Germany and the UK. The survey was distributed to 3,045 individuals across France (1,002 respondents), Germany (1003 respondents) and the UK (1,040 respondents) in middle or upper leadership roles, with decision making involvement in cyber-security.

Insights from experienced cyber-security professionals and desk research informed the creation of a survey. The survey consisted of 43 items organised into nine groups of questioning with five-point response scales allowing respondents to self-report within the scope of this specific investigation. The survey also had questions to allow for the collection of demographic data.

About the research partners

Symantec partnered with Dr Chris Brauer, Director of Innovation, Goldsmiths, University of London and research firm Thread, led by Dr Jennifer Barth to explore the challenges faced by cybersecurity professionals. They are experts in creating high impact studies on consumer behaviour, emerging technologies and socioeconomic change. Using a combination of qualitative and quantitative study, they take an in-depth academic approach to solving key challenges facing business.

About Symantec

Symantec Corporation (NASDAQ: SYMC), the world’s leading cyber security company, helps organizations, governments and people secure their most important data wherever it lives. Organizations across the world look to Symantec for strategic, integrated solutions to defend against sophisticated attacks across endpoints, cloud and infrastructure. Likewise, a global community of more than 50 million people and families rely on Symantec’s Norton and LifeLock product suites to protect their digital lives at home and across their devices. Symantec operates one of the world’s largest civilian cyber intelligence networks, allowing it to see and protect against the most advanced threats. For additional information, please visit or connect with us on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.