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UK CEOs Focus on Cybersecurity to Support Remote Working and Digital Transformation Goals

According to the latest PwC survey, a major priority for UK CEOs in 2021 is digital transformation.

CEOs have prioritized the adoption of digital transformation strategies as a means to survive the pandemic era.  In a year that saw an unprecedented adoption of remote working in the wake of COVID-19 lockdown, most organizations found technology and digital channels were critical to survival. As a result of the COVID-19 crisis, 67% of UK CEOs plan to increase long-term investment in cybersecurity and data privacy over the next three years. PwC UK’s latest “24th Annual CEO Survey” for 2021 unraveled that organizations that had already prioritized digital transformation fared better in 2020 and are now the example others are seeking to emulate.

The survey also found:

  • 91% of UK CEOs are concerned about cyber threats, up from 80% last year
  • 48% of UK CEOs are ‘extremely concerned’ (up from 42% last year) about the risk of cyber threats to their business growth prospects

COVID-19 Accelerated Digital Transformation; But Gaps in Cybersecurity Loom Large

The rapid pace of digital transformation due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which saw businesses move services online, supply chains disrupted and employees work from home, has pushed cybersecurity to the top of the agenda for UK CEOs.

Ninety-one percent of UK CEOs are concerned about the threat of cyber security risks, according to PwC’s 24th Annual CEO Survey. This is the highest figure recorded since CEOs were first asked about cyber threats in the survey, and an increase on last year’s figure of 80%. It is also higher than this year’s global figure of 85%.

Chris Gaines, Cyber Security Leader, PwC UK said, “As the criticality of technology has increased over the past year, so have UK CEOs’ fears of cybersecurity threats. This heightened concern is understandable as the stakes are so much higher than they were 12 months ago. Businesses have become more aware of how reliant on the technology they are for their very survival, and as such the risk of cybersecurity attacks naturally weighs more heavily on their minds.

“The technological changes implemented over the past 12 months have not only been across businesses, but also society, and many were implemented in haste.

Risk-averse organizations who in different times may have taken years to plan for increased remote working made the change overnight. Organizations must now effectively, securely embed such changes while continuing to evolve and innovate.”

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PwC surveyed 5,050 CEOs in 100 countries and territories in January and February 2021. This is up from 3,501 respondents in last year’s survey. The global and regional figures in this report are based on a sub-sample of 1,779 CEOs, proportionate to country nominal GDP to ensure that CEOs’ views are representative across all major regions. Further details by region, country and industry are available on request.

Cyber threats are a top strategic risk for UK CEOs

When asked which top three threats are explicitly factored into their strategic risk management activities, ‘cyber threats’ was the most selected by UK CEOs and chosen by 75% of them. This was in front of ‘pandemics and other health crises’ (62%), and ‘uncertain economic growth’ (57%).

Looking ahead, 48% of UK CEOs are ‘extremely concerned’ (up from 42% last year) about the risk of cyber threats to their business growth prospects. In addition, as a result of the COVID-19 crisis, 67% of UK CEOs plan to increase long-term investment in cybersecurity and data privacy over the next three years, with 24% of UK CEOs saying they will significantly increase long-term investments.

Time to Grow Reliance on Cybersecurity Technologies to Succeed with Digital Transformation 

Chris Gaines, Cyber Security Leader, PwC UK said:

“Increasing investment in cyber defenses is only part of the approach CEOs should be taking. With every area of every organization now more reliant on technology, and more reliant upon the technology of suppliers and other organizations within their ecosystem, business leaders need to appreciate the role they must play in securing their organization.

“Securing an enterprise is far more than ensuring the CIO builds the right technical controls. It is about simplifying the organization to be securable. It is about assessing, understanding and managing the cyber risk impact of every business decision. And it is about recognizing that much of cybersecurity risk originates from vulnerabilities outside their organization.

CEOs are right to be concerned about cybersecurity risk but the challenge they face is shaping their organizations to be securable. However, this period of change we find ourselves in presents the perfect moment to face into that challenge.”

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