Press Release

Corporate confidence in cyber protection contrasts with lack of employee awareness of the threats

Three-quarters of US companies believe they are highly protected and can adequately respond to threats, but low cyber IQ among employees poses a threat

June 6, 2017
| United States

ARLINGTON, VA, June 6, 2017 — Nearly three-quarters (73%) of U.S. businesses believe their organizations are highly protected from attempts by outsiders to gain access to their systems and data, according to a survey by leading global advisory, broking and solutions company Willis Towers Watson (NASDAQ: WLTW). A similar proportion of organizations (79%) maintain they have the right processes in place to adequately respond to privacy and security threats.

The findings, from Willis Towers Watson’s Cyber Pulse Survey, illustrate responses from organizations and their employees on cybersecurity practices across the United States. The survey found a majority of companies feel they are adequately prepared for cyberattacks against their organizations, despite the frequency and breadth of impact of cyberattacks across industries in recent years seemingly indicating the contrary.

However, the survey also revealed the disparity between corporate feelings of preparedness and the increasing number of cybersecurity incidents could be a result of a lack of responsibility or accountability among employees, the human element of the cyber equation. U.S. employees ranked insufficient understanding (79%) as the biggest barrier to their organization effectively managing its cyber risk. Nearly half (45%) spent 30 minutes or less on cybersecurity training in 2016, and a quarter (25%) received none at all.

More concerning for employers is the discovery that of the employees that did complete cyber training, 61% admitted they only completed it because it was required, and 46% believe opening any email on their work computer is safe, suggesting employees may not be engaged or feel the personal accountability necessary to drive long-term, sustainable behaviors.

“As the world has seen with the proliferation of phishing scams, most recently highlighted by the global WannaCry ransomware attack, the opening of just one suspicious email containing a harmful link or attachment can lead to a companywide event,” said Anthony Dagostino, head of global Cyber Risk, Willis Towers Watson. “However, there appears to be a disconnect between executive priorities around data protection and the need to invest in a cyber savvy workforce through training, incentives and talent management strategies.”

Willis Towers Watson’s survey also detailed additional barriers companies feel impact their cyber preparedness and the degree to which corporations are providing cyber training to their employers. Some additional findings include:

  • Over 30% of employees surveyed have logged into their work-designated computer or mobile device over an unsecured public network (such as public Wi-Fi).
  • Only a little more than half (52%) of the employers surveyed feel they have made progress addressing cybersecurity factors tied to human error and behaviors in the last three years.

“Hackers are exploiting the fact that while corporations are building walls of technology around their organizations and networks, by far the biggest threat to corporate digital security and privacy continues to come from employees within, often completely by accident,” said Dagostino. “A truly holistic cyber risk management strategy requires at its core a cyber savvy workforce; however, organizations first have to know where the vulnerabilities are in order to plug the gaps. Many organizations are facing talent deficiencies and skill shortages in their IT departments, which in turn are creating significant loopholes in their overall security measures.”

According to the survey respondents, costs associated with minimizing cyber risk will continue to rise as technology evolves and becomes more sophisticated. “This heavy emphasis on technology is crucial given the competing sophistication of cybercriminals, but also encouraging that human capital solutions and improvement of operating procedures will be a priority for nearly three-quarters of organizations in the next three years,” said Dagostino.

About Willis Towers Watson

Willis Towers Watson (NASDAQ: WLTW) is a leading global advisory, broking and solutions company that helps clients around the world turn risk into a path for growth. With roots dating to 1828, Willis Towers Watson has 40,000 employees serving more than 140 countries. We design and deliver solutions that manage risk, optimize benefits, cultivate talent, and expand the power of capital to protect and strengthen institutions and individuals. Our unique perspective allows us to see the critical intersections between talent, assets and ideas — the dynamic formula that drives business performance. Together, we unlock potential. Learn more at