The C-Suite, also referred to as the C-Level, is an organization’s most important senior leadership team. The C-team typically consists of people that are referred to as the “chief” (chief executive officer, chief financial officer, etc.) of the organization. The C in the C-Suite is a reference to these top executives of the organization.
The C-Suite is the highest decision-making authority and the most influential team of an organization. Executives at this level possess fine leadership skills and excellent technical skills.
They are the authors of the company’s vision. The C-Suite works to ensure that an organization’s work, success and progress are in alignment with the company’s vision.
As the face and the highest authority of an organization, the C-Suite is privy to the company’s most sensitive information. While the perks are elaborate, the C-Suite is not without stress and risks. In fact, it is the C-Suite of an organization that is most vulnerable to cybersecurity risks.
Why C-Suite is more vulnerable to cyberattacks?
The C-Suite is more at risk of phishing than a standard employee of an organization by 50 times. 84% of C-Suite executives admit to having faced at least one cyberattack. 78% leaders in the IT sector say the C-Suite is the most vulnerable target for phishing attacks.
What is it that makes the C-Suite more vulnerable to cyber risks? Here, we explore some key reasons:
Unrestrained Access to Information
As a company’s top leaders, the C-Level owns exclusive access to an organization’s most sensitive information, including financial, market-based and research-oriented. In addition, a C-Level executive has free access to the most critical systems of the company.
It is also the C-Suite that possesses most influence when it comes to making organizational decisions or getting things done faster. A cyber-attacker can control the whole organization by targeting a C-Suite executive and taking over his/ her identity.
A cybercriminal can get even the most difficult tasks executed or decisions made using the influence a C-Level executive commands. These tasks or decisions would otherwise have been impossible to be implemented.
The C-Level can Bypass Security
The C-Suite has the authority to bypass security to get things done faster. These executives can skirt organizational hierarchies to get what they want. 76% of CEOs say that they have bypassed security to speed up things.
This power the C-Level holds is a magnet for cyber-attackers. After all, they want to get the most difficult things done in the shortest time.
A Risk-High Job Profile
As a C-Level executive, an individual has to work long hours, even while on the go, and make instant decisions. The responsibilities inherent to the position force executives to make choices that make them more vulnerable to cyber-risks.
For example, a C-Suite executive has to travel often. This means working on the go, using available resources such as public Wi-Fi available at airports, coffee shops, or hotels. Research shows that coffee shops are a most dangerous W-Fi spot. Working at such venues makes the C-Suite easy targets.
The need to make instantaneous decisions makes a C-Suite executive less cautious about emails or chat messages.
For example, an urgent message can persuade an executive waiting to join a critical meeting to click a link without evaluating its veracity. The spur-of-the-moment action inadvertently permits malware attacks.
Most cyber-attackers are interested in financial gains – they are keen on getting the best returns on their investments.
What better targets then, than the C-Suite that inadvertently gives them a range of vulnerabilities to exploit?
What are the Top Cyber Risks for the C-Suite?
Cybercriminals are aware that the C-Site is their best channel to gain easy entry into an organizational setup. Leveraging the common vulnerabilities of the C-Level, cybercriminals steal online identities of executives and use their influence to reach their goal.
An awareness of the common cyber risks empowers the C-Suite with the skill to identify such attacks before they cause major damage. Here are the major cyber security risks to which the C-Suite is most vulnerable:
This cyber act of crime is targeted specifically at the C-Suite. Attackers are patient enough to obtain vulnerable information about the target. They visit resources such as social media pages, public data and even the dark web, to obtain information about their target.
Armed with the information, they create a target-customized email. The authenticity of the email compels the target to do as requested in the email. Upon acting as instructed, the target unknowingly divulges sensitive data such as online identity.
- Business Email Compromise
Criminals create duplicate email or social media identities of executives to impersonate them.
Once the criminal is able to communicate with employees using the duplicate identity without raising suspicion, he/ she puts the next plan into motion. For example, they can obtain a financial benefit such as ordering a wire transfer or obtaining proprietary employee information.
- Spear Phishing
Cybercriminals target a single individual or a group using a specific system or service. They send an email, known as a phishing email, to the target. This email contains a malicious download or link, which when clicked gives the attacker control over the victim’s device and information.
Phishing emails are designed to be authentic to tempt victims. They carry a sense of urgency and aim to generate emotions such as fear and temptation in the victim.
Once the target is persuaded by the email to take the specific action (visit a website or click an attachment), the attacker achieves his/ her goal. The attacker uses the victim’s credentials such as usernames and passwords to target other people in the company.
How C-Suite handle cybersecurity risks?
Along with cyber-risk awareness, implementation of best practices can reduce the risk of security for the C-Suite.
Acknowledge Cyber Risk as a Standalone Risk
Cyber risks are often categorized under IT risks or other security risks. As a result, they do not become a priority in the security hierarchy. Risk mitigation starts only when the C-Suite acknowledges cyber-risk as a damaging security issue and prioritizes it as a standalone issue.
Monitor the C-Suite More Often
As the most vulnerable section, the C-Suite demands regular security monitoring. Set up a system that reports unusual emails requesting a huge money transfer or asking for sensitive data.
Follow Security Measures
Security practices such as setting strong passwords, using multi-factor authentication, and installing antivirus and firewalls, go a long way in ensuring security. They not only protect the C-Suite but also the entire organization.
The C-Suite must make it a practice to adhere to security protocols and lead by example. Refraining from damaging practices such as security bypassing are key to establishing a robust security system.
Implement Security Awareness Training
Educate not only the C-Suite but also employees across the organization about cyber risks. Cybersecurity awareness like C-Suite to ensure employees become more skilled at identifying phishing attempts. They are less likely to be duped by executive impersonation scams.
A more serious acceptance of the financial and ethical damage that cyber-risks can cause to an organization is key to building a cyber-safe company. As the topmost organizational leadership, cyber-safety should become the primary responsibility of the C-Suite.
When leaders emphasize security, the entire organization organically considers security a priority and not an afterthought.