Over Two-third UAE CISOs Feel Prepared For Targeted Cyber Attacks

Proofpoint has released its annual Voice of the CISO report, which explores key challenges, expectations and priorities of chief information security officers (CISOs) worldwide.

The 2024 report draws attention to a notable trend: while fears of cyber attacks remain high, CISOs in the UAE demonstrate increasing confidence in their ability to defend against these threats, reflecting a significant shift in the cybersecurity landscape. Over two-thirds (70%) of surveyed CISOs in the UAE feel at risk of a material cyber attack over the next 12 months, compared to 75% the year before, and 44% in 2022. CISOs today clearly remain on high alert, but confidence among them is growing: just 34% feel unprepared to cope with a targeted cyber attack, showing a marked decrease over last year’s 57% and 47% in 2022.

Human error continues to be perceived as the Achilles’ heel of cybersecurity, with more than three-quarters (76%) of CISOs in the UAE identifying it as the most significant vulnerability. In a year of growing insider threats and people-driven data loss, more CISOs in the UAE than ever (83%) see human risk, in particular negligent employees as a key cybersecurity concern over the next two years. However, there’s growing optimism in the role of AI-powered solutions to mitigate human-centric risks, reflecting a strategic pivot towards technology-driven defenses.

The 2024 Voice of the CISO report examines global third-party survey responses from 1,600 CISOs from organizations of 1,000 employees or more across different industries. Throughout the course of Q1 2024, 100 CISOs were interviewed in each market across 16 countries: the U.S., Canada, the UK, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Sweden, the Netherlands, UAE, KSA, Australia, Japan, Singapore, South Korea, and Brazil.

The report offers a vital perspective on the state of cybersecurity from those at the forefront of protecting people and defending data. The report also stresses the importance of maintaining robust cybersecurity measures in the face of economic pressures and the critical role of human factors in organizational cyber readiness. The survey also measures the changes in alignment between security leaders and their boards of directors, exploring how their relationship impacts security priorities.

“As we navigate through the complexities of today’s cyber threat environment, it’s encouraging to see CISOs in the UAE gaining confidence in their strategies and tools,” commented Emile Abou Saleh, Senior Regional Director, Middle East, Turkey, and Africa at Proofpoint. “However, the ongoing challenges of employee turnover, pressure on resources, and the need for continuous board engagement remind us that vigilance and adaptation are key to our collective cyber resilience.”

Key global findings from Proofpoint’s 2024 Voice of the CISO report for the UAE include:

  • Human error still tops cyber vulnerability threats but CISOs in the UAE turn to AI solutions to help. This year, we are seeing an uptick in the number of CISOs in the UAE who view human error as their organization’s biggest cyber vulnerability—76% in this year’s survey vs. 59% in 2023. However, 87% of CISOs believe that employees understand their role in protecting the organization. This confidence is higher than in previous years—56% in 2023 and 51% in 2022. This may be attributed to the 89% of UAE CISOs surveyed looking to deploy AI-powered capabilities to help protect against human error and advanced human-centered cyber threats.
  • CISOs in the UAE continue to fear cyber-attacks but fewer feel unprepared, showing growing confidence in their security measures. In 2024, 70% of CISOs surveyed in the UAE feel at risk of experiencing a material cyber-attack in the next 12 months, compared to 75% in 2023 and 44% in 2022. However, just 34% feel their organization is unprepared to cope with a targeted cyber-attack, compared to 57% in 2023 and 47% in 2022.
  • Generative AI tops CISOs security concerns in the UAE. In 2024, 49% of CISOs surveyed in the UAE believe that generative AI poses a security risk to their organization. The top three systems CISOs view as introducing risk to their organizations are: Microsoft 365 (50%), Perimeter network device (45%), Slack/Teams/Zoom/other collaboration tools (43%) and ChatGPT/other genAI (40%).
  • Employee turnover is still a concern, yet CISOs in the UAE trust their defenses. In 2024, 45% of security leaders reported having to deal with a material loss of sensitive data in the past 12 months, and of those, 64% agreed that employees leaving the organization contributed to the loss. Despite those losses, 83% of CISOs believe they have adequate controls to protect their data.
  • The majority of CISOs in the UAE have adopted DLP technology and invested more in security education. 51% of CISOs surveyed in the UAE, in 2024 have data loss prevention technology (DLP) in place compared to just 45% in 2023. More than half (55%) of CISOs surveyed invested in educating employees on data security best practices which is higher in 2024 compared to 2023 (41%).
  • Cloud account compromise and ransomware top CISO concerns in the UAE. The biggest cybersecurity threats perceived by CISOs in 2024 are cloud account compromise (Microsoft 365 or G Suite or other) (44%), ransomware attacks (42%) and malware (42%). These top threats are different from last year in which CISOs perceived distributed email fraud, cloud account compromise (Microsoft 365, G Suite or other), malware and smishing/vishing as the biggest threats.
  • Steady stance on ransom payments with increased reliance on cyber insurance in the UAE. In 2024, 64% (59% in 2023) of CISOs in the UAE believe their organization would pay to restore systems and prevent data release if attacked by ransomware in the next 12 months. 76% of CISOs said they would rely on cyber insurance claims to recover potential losses incurred, compared to 56% in 2023.
  • The Board-CISO relationship has improved significantly in the UAE. In 2024, 80% of CISOs agree their board members see eye-to-eye with them on cybersecurity issues. This is a significant jump from 63% in 2023, and 47% in 2022.
  • Pressures on CISOs in the UAE are unrelenting. In 2024, 69% of CISOs in the UAE admitted to burnout compared to 59% last year, while 87% feel they face excessive expectations, a steady increase from 59% last year and 38% in 2022. The sustainability of the ongoing expectations on CISOs continues to be tested—69% are concerned about personal liability (60% in 2023) and 74% (56% in 2023) would not join an organization that does not offer Directors & Officers (D&O) insurance coverage. In addition, 63% of CISOs agreed that the current economic downturn has hampered their ability to make business-critical investments, with 49% of them being asked to cut staff or delay backfills as well as reduce security budgets.

“While the cybersecurity landscape continues to evolve with increasing human-centric threats, the 2024 Voice of the CISO report highlights what appears to be a pivotal shift towards greater resilience, preparedness and confidence among global CISOs,” said Patrick Joyce, global resident CISO at Proofpoint. “This year’s findings underscore a collective move towards strategic defenses, including enhanced education, technological adoption, and an adaptive approach to emerging threats like generative AI.”