Global Cyber Executive Briefing

In a world increasingly driven by digital technologies and information, cyber-threat management is more than just a strategic imperative. It’s a fundamental part of doing business. Yet for many C-suite executives and board members, the concept of cybersecurity remains vague and complex. Although it might be on your strategic agenda, what does it really mean? And what can your organization do to shore up its defenses and protect itself from cyber-threats? A common myth is that cyber-attacks only happen to certain types of organizations, such as high-profile technology businesses. However, the cold, hard truth is that every organization has valuable data to lose. In fact, the attacks that happen most frequently are completely indiscriminate – using scripted, automated tools that identify and exploit whatever weaknesses they happen to find.

Lessons from the front lines

Cyber-attacks can be extremely harmful. Tangible costs range from stolen funds and damaged systems to regulatory fines, legal damages, and financial compensation for injured parties. However, what might hurt even more are the intangible costs -- such as loss of competitive advantage due to stolen intellectual property, loss of customer or business partner trust, loss of integrity due to compromised digital assets, and overall damage to an organization’s reputation and brand -- all of which can send an organization’s share price plummeting, and in extreme cases can even drive a company out of business.

Being resilient to cyber-risks starts with awareness at the board and C-suite level; a recognition that at some point your organization will be attacked. You need to understand the biggest threats, and which assets are at greatest risk -- the assets at the heart of your organization’s mission. 

Who could potentially target your organization, and for what reasons? Which assets are attackers likely to view as most valuable? What are the possible scenarios for attack (see Table 1), and what is the potential impact to your business? 

Questions such as these can help determine how advanced and persistent the cyber-threats to your business are likely to be. This insight allows you, as a C-suite executive or board member, to determine your organization’s risk appetite and provide guidance that helps internal and external security professionals reduce your risk exposure to an acceptable level through a well-balanced cyber-defense. Although it isn’t possible for any organization to be 100 percent secure, it is entirely possible to use a mix of processes for prevention, detection, and response to keep cyber-risk below a level set by the board and enable an organization to operate with less disruption. 

To be effective and well balanced, a cyber-defense must have three key characteristics: secure, vigilant, and resilient.

Secure: Being secure means focusing protection around the risk-sensitive assets at the heart of your organization’s mission — the ones that both you and your adversaries are likely to agree are the most valuable.

Vigilant: Being vigilant means establishing threat awareness throughout the organization, and developing the capacity to detect patterns of behavior that may indicate, or even predict, compromise of critical assets.

Resilient: Being resilient means having the capacity to rapidly contain the damage, and mobilize the diverse resources needed to minimize impact — including direct costs and business disruption, as well as reputation and brand damage. 

This executive briefing is a starting point for organizations to understand their most important cyber-threats. It highlights the top threats for seven key industry sectors -- retail, manufacturing, e-commerce & online payments, online media, high technology, telecommunications, and insurance – and offers real-world stories and practical insights to help your organization begin to assess its threat profile and stay a step ahead of cyber-criminals.

By highlighting real-life cases, we hope to make clear that being hacked is nothing to be ashamed of. Breaches occur at all organizations – not because they are badly managed, but because hackers and cyber-criminals are getting smarter every day. By sharing information about breaches we can learn how to better protect ourselves – an imperative being promoted by the Partnering for Cyber-Resilience 2 initiative of the World Economic Forum.

The stories clearly show that breaches are inevitable: your organization will be hacked someday. They also show that we all depend on each other for a resilient cyber-space. For example, online media can be used to spread malware; vulnerabilities in the high-tech sector affect other industries that use digital technology; and disruption in online payments impact e-commerce. By sharing and understanding these cases and taking responsibility at the C-suite and board level, we can all work together towards a safer cyber-space.

Download the report. For a correct display of the page on an iPad, you might want to install the free Adobe Reader app. When opening the pdf, select Single Page as View Mode.


This report focused on seven key industry sectors that are prime targets for cyber-attacks. Follow-on reports will highlight the top cyber-threats in other major sectors that are also highly vulnerable. After all, the single biggest takeaway from the stories and insights presented here is that breaches are inevitable -- and that no industry or organization is immune. Your organization will be hacked someday. 

Attacks can result in significant tangible costs ranging from stolen money and property to regulatory fines, legal damages, and financial compensation. But those are just the tip of the iceberg. The really significant costs are the intangibles, particularly loss of competitive advantage, loss of customer trust, and damage to an organization’s reputation and brand. Intangibles such as these can have a major impact on an organization’s strategic market position and share price.

The good news is that cyber-threats are a manageable problem. As noted earlier, a well-balanced cyber-defense needs to be secure, vigilant, and resilient. Although it isn’t possible for any organization to be 100 percent secure, by focusing on these three key attributes, it is entirely possible to manage and mitigate cyber-threats in a way that reduces their impact and minimizes the potential for business disruption. 

In closing, here are five takeaway questions to reflect on through the lens of a secure, vigilant, and resilient approach to cybersecurity:

  1. Are we focused on the right things?  
    Often asked, but difficult to accomplish. Understand how value is created in your organization, where your critical assets are, how they are vulnerable to key threats. Practice defense-in-depth.
  2. Do we have the right talent? 
    Quality over quantity. There may not be enough talent to do everything in-house, so take a strategic approach to sourcing decisions.  Are the security teams focused on the real business areas?
  3. Are we proactive or reactive? 
    Retrofitting for security is very expensive. Build it upfront in your management processes, applications, and infrastructure.
  4. Are we incentivizing openness and collaboration? 
    Build strong relationships with partners, law enforcement, regulators, and vendors. Foster internal cooperation across groups and functions, and ensure that people aren’t hiding risks to protect themselves.
  5. Are we adapting to change?  
    Policy reviews, assessments, and rehearsals of crisis response processes should be regularized to establish a culture of perpetual adaptation to the threat and risk landscape.
Did you find this useful?