Target Exec’s Departure Puts Spotlight on CIOs

The departure of Target's chief information officer in the wake of the company's massive pre-Christmas data breach highlights the increased pressure facing executives who are charged with protecting corporate computer systems from hackers whose attacks are on the rise and becoming more sophisticated.

CIOs from companies in all walks of business -- from retail to banking and drug discovery -- are using the Target breach as a rallying point to call attention to their struggle and garner additional funds and manpower to fight digital threats.

Cyberattacks were on the rise long before Target's news that hackers had stolen 40 million debit and credit card numbers, along with the personal information belonging to as many as 70,000 people. A 2013 Hewlett-Packard Co.-sponsored study by the Ponemon Institute found that the average annual cost of cybercrime incurred by a benchmark sample of U.S. organizations was $11.6 million per organization, a 26 percent increase from the previous year.

For a host of companies, the Target breach was a pivotal event that permanently altered the way they approach data security. Many CIOs say they're receiving more support, but they say the trade-off is that they're facing increased scrutiny from their CEOs and other executives. If their fortress walls fall to hackers, their jobs will be on the line.

Ken Grady, CIO of life sciences company New England BioLabs Inc., says the increased attention to data security has been a good thing for him. It has prompted much needed support from colleagues. But that backing comes at a cost.

"If I have a breach in spite of all that, I need to be able to say that we did everything we could to prevent it," Grady says. "If I can't do that, then it would have a negative effect on me."

Analysts believe the Target data theft couldn't have had a...

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