CISOs stressed by growing security task list, research says

The second annual study says pressures are mounting for infosec bosses

Perhaps 90 per cent of research-based press releases journalists receive concerning cybersecurity are dolled-up scare stories designed to instil fear into the hearts and minds of the reader over new, ever-nastier threats. But for the second year, UK internet domain name registry Nominet has done something very different, studying what it now suggests is a growing issue: CISO stress levels.

Just released, The CISO Stress Report: Life Inside the Perimeter, One Year On, provides an update on (but no sign of positivity in) the period since its 2019 predecessor. In fact, the report, which polled a total of 800 UK and US executives, evenly split across the countries, suggests a deteriorating picture with 48% of CISOs saying that work stress has hurt their mental health, almost twice as high as last year's figure (27%). Also, the percentage figure of CISOs turning to medication or alcohol has increased by a quarter year on year, from 17% in 2019 to 23% in 2020.

"It's a real problem and it's starting to impact personal lives of CISOs," said Stuart Reed, VP of Cyber at Nominet in a phone interview.

The report is unusual in its area of focus, but Reed said that Nominet had no dog in the fight and only wanted to explore what it said was a little-covered area.

"There's no shortage of reports on the threat landscape and we're acutely aware of how that landscape is changing. It's very easy to talk about the technology aspects but there's a human element too. People are on the front line combatting this, and there's a very human aspect."

The increases are alarming, but Reed dismissed the suggestion that these could be statistical anomalies.

"I'm not surprised at the rises. It's very easy to draw a thread from the rise in attacks and their effects on the CISO," he added.

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