25 May 2022

Cyber security threats to business set to increase over next year

Almost two thirds (66%) of UK business leaders expect the threat from cyber criminals to increase over the next 12 months, according to the latest PwC cyber security survey of business and technology executives. The survey is based on responses from 3,600 business and technology executives from around the world, including 257 in the UK.

  • 61% expect to see an increase in reportable ransomware incidents in 2022
  • 86% said that complexity in their organisation was creating concerning levels of risk, with third-party cyber risks a glaring blind spot
  • 64% expect a jump in attacks on their cloud services over the next year
  • 63% are increasing their cyber security budgets over the coming year

The findings reinforce the concerns of UK businesses about different cyber threats, as well the potential vulnerability of their supply chains.

Over the past year, prominent ransomware attacks have caused a significant impact on organisations already dealing with the challenges posed by the Covid pandemic.

There is also now the added threat of ‘ransomware as a service’, in which ransomware developers lease out their malware in exchange for a share of the criminal profits.

PwC’s research finds that 61% of UK respondents expect to see an increase in reportable ransomware incidents in 2022.

Expectations of an increase in ransomware attacks reflects UK businesses’ concern about a broader increase over the next 12 months in cyber threats, including business email compromise (61%) and malware via software updates (63%).

Bobbie Ramsden-Knowles, Crisis and Resilience Partner, PwC UK said: “It’s impossible to ignore the threat from ransomware attacks as criminal groups become more brazen and scale their operations through ‘ransomware as a service’ and the use of affiliate criminal groups. At PwC our threat intelligence team has already tracked more ransomware incidents globally, up to September 2021, than in the whole of 2020.

“Ransomware has the potential to rapidly disrupt an organisation’s entire business, across geographies and functions. For organisations without a framework for managing enterprise-wide crises there is an acute need to develop and embed one, to be able to respond to this type of disruptive event in a coordinated way.

“Whereas other types of crises may be perceived as ‘black swan’ events that cannot be predicted, ransomware attacks have become so widespread that we have seen a common set of challenges and decisions that all organisations would face. Developing – and aligning – ransomware playbooks for executive crisis teams and operational responders is a no-regrets move. And, testing these through wargames and exercises can reduce uncertainty, build confidence in the ability to respond and help prioritise focus on preventative measures.”

Simplifying cyber security

The increased complexity of some organisations’ operations due to growth, mergers and acquisitions, or the rapid adoption of new technologies has made them more difficult to properly secure. In fact, 86% of UK respondents said that complexity in their organisation creates concerning levels of risk. This concern is primarily caused by a network of multi-vendor environments. Notably, 64% of UK respondents expect a jump in attacks on their cloud services over the next year, however only 41% profess to understand of cloud risks based on formal assessments. Similarly, 63% of respondents say their organisations expect a rise in breaches via their software supply chain, yet only 42% have formally assessed their enterprise’s exposure to this risk.

Richard Horne, Cyber Security Chair, PwC UK said: “Even when their own cyber defences are solid, organisations can be vulnerable to an attack through their suppliers. A sophisticated cyber-criminal will always search for the weakest link. It is essential for business leaders to fully understand and manage their organisation’s web of third-party relationships. However, our research shows that fewer than half of UK respondents say they have responded to the escalating threats that complex business ecosystems pose.”

Cyber security budgets set to rise

Almost two-thirds of UK organisations (63%) are increasing their cyber security budgets over the coming year, this compares to 56% in last year’s survey. Furthermore, nearly a quarter of organisations (24%) plan to increase their cyber security spend by 10% or more.

“As cyber security budgets increase, organisations are faced with the challenge of ensuring they get the best return on their investment,” says Horne. “Our research found that few organisations are confident they are reaping the rewards from increased spending. For example, while 37% of UK respondents said they had implemented cloud security at scale, just 18% are fully realising the benefits of their investment. The remainder either weren’t investing in this area or hadn’t yet implemented it at scale.

“To overcome this challenge and build greater confidence in their security investments, organisations must improve their cyber risk modelling and analysis. This ensures increases in cyber budgets are allocated to priority risks and help build long-term resilience.”