Massive cybersecurity breaches have become almost commonplace, regularly grabbing headlines that alarm consumers and leaders, according to the recently launched 2018 Global State of Information Security Survey (GSISS), by PwC.

For all of the attention such incidents have attracted in recent years, many organisations worldwide still struggle to comprehend and manage emerging cyber risks in an increasingly complex digital society.

PwC launched the GSISS, based on responses of more than 9,500 senior business and technology executives from 122 countries.

Executives worldwide acknowledge the increasingly high stakes of cyber insecurity; 40 per cent of survey respondents cite the disruption of operations as the biggest consequence of a cyberattack, 39 per cent cite the compromise of sensitive data, 32 per cent cite harm to product quality, and 22 per cent cite harm to human life.

Yet despite this awareness, many companies at risk of cyberattacks remain unprepared to deal with them. Forty-four per cent say they do not have an overall information security strategy–48 per cent said they do not have an employee security awareness training programme, and 54 per cent say they do not have an incident-response process.

Case studies of non-cyberdisasters have shown that cascading events often begin with the loss of power—and many systems are impacted instantaneously or within one day, meaning there is generally precious little time to address the initial problem before it cascades. Interdependencies between critical and non-critical networks often go unnoticed until trouble strikes. Many people worldwide–particularly in Japan, the United States, Germany, the United Kingdom and South Korea–are concerned about cyberattacks from other countries. Tools for conducting cyberattacks are proliferating worldwide. Smaller nations are aiming to develop capabilities like those used by larger countries. And the leaking of US National Security Agency (NSA) hacking tools has made highly sophisticated capabilities available to malicious hackers.

When cyberattacks occur, most victimised companies say they cannot clearly identify the culprits. Only 39 per cent of survey respondents say they are very confident in their attribution capabilities.

The soaring production of insecure internet of things (IoT) devices is creating widespread cybersecurity vulnerabilities. Rising threats to data integrity could undermine trusted systems and cause physical harm by damaging critical infrastructure.

Meanwhile, there is a wide disparity in cybersecurity preparedness among countries around the world. In our 2018 GSISS, the frequency of organisations possessing an overall cybersecurity strategy is particularly high in Japan (72 per cent), where cyberattacks are seen as the leading national security threat, and Malaysia (74 per cent).

In May 2017, G-7 leaders pledged to work together and with other partners to tackle cyberattacks and mitigate their impact on critical infrastructure and society. Two months later, G-20 leaders reiterated the need for cybersecurity and trust in digital technologies. The task ahead is huge.

“Often in the Middle East, organisations try to address their cybersecurity issues by buying the latest technology or implementing the best standards, but unfortunately that doesn’t work on its own,” said Wael Fattouh, PwC Middle East Partner, Cyber and Technology Risk. “Effective security must be achieved by smart and effective investments in People, Processes, and Technology together, that is the only way to ensure a proper and resilient level of protection.”

Next steps for business leaders C-suites must lead the charge and boards must be engaged: senior leaders driving the business must take ownership of building cyber resilience. Setting a top-down strategy to manage cyber and privacy risks across the enterprise is essential.

Pursue resilience as a path to reward, not merely to avoid risk: achieving greater risk resilience is a pathway to stronger, long-term economic performance.

Purposefully collaborate and leverage lessons learned: Industry and government leaders must work across organisational, sectoral and national borders to identify, map, and test cyberdependency and interconnectivity risks as well as surge resilience and risk-management.