Cyber Threats Continue to Deeply Affect the APAC Region

Robert Pizzari, Vice President, Security, APAC, Splunk

 By Radhika Wijesekera –

The first US-Singapore dialogue on critical and emerging technologies was held recently, where Splunk, a US-based software company that produces software for searching, monitoring, and analysing machine-generated data via a web-style interface, was identified along with industry giants such as Amazon, Google and IBM as a representative in a joint mapping exercise on the governance of AI, as part of this bilateral conversation.

According to the Chief Information Security Officers’ (CISO) report, the APAC region was the most significantly affected by disruptive cyberattacks (45%), which naturally leads to these respondents being the most afraid of such attacks on operational technology and IoT. The prevalence of ransomware too was highest in the APAC region (64%) where their systems and business operations were significantly affected.

AsiaBizToday had the chance to speak exclusively with Robert Pizzari, vice president, Security, APAC, Splunk, where he shared his insights on the matter. Here is what he had to say:

Q: Where does the APAC region stand as far as cyberattacks are concerned? How have their systems been affected, and how do users view these threats? Is this region at a higher risk than other regions such as North America and Western Europe?

A: From our State of Security Report this year, we saw that APAC does have more room to grow when it comes to improving cybersecurity capabilities, especially when it comes integrating automation and analytics tools, or increasing their investments in this area. This might be due to the complexity of data and the difficulty in integrating disparate tools.

In countries such as India where there is greater complexity in their tool ecosystems, we are seeing a higher number of cyberattacks reported. An interesting problem faced by many was in fact the cybersecurity talent crunch, where many are seeking alternatives such as AI to overcome the issue. 

Q: What is driving the growth of CISO’s role in APAC? How has their role evolved to be more strategic?

A: The role of today’s CISOs has grown to be more complex than ever before. To remain relevant and competitive in the modern business environment, organisations need to expand their digital presence, and this has been accompanied by increased cybersecurity risks. 

In fact, our 2023 CISO Report found that 89% of CISOs in APAC have reported that their role has changed so much that it was almost a different job. Moreover, close to half of CISOs in APAC are now reporting directly to their CEO, and they are now focusing on controls and implementation, with APAC reporting the highest percentage of CISOs (94%) witnessing the transition of their roles from controllers to strategic architects. What this means is that more CISOs are emerging as leaders and strategists in the boardroom, as board members increasingly understand that security risk is business risk. 

Q: In what ways does a more visible CISO benefit a company?

A: No longer are CISOs working in isolated bubbles and independent silos. In fact, we found that CISOs today have more face time and influence with CEOs and boards, leading to an increase in focus on technology-related matters such as cybersecurity. 

A more visible CISO also allows for greater strategic collaboration with engineering and IT teams. Team collaboration, especially between security and IT teams is now expanding and becoming more common in recent times. By working together, teams stand to see increased opportunity to create more unified solutions to tackle organisational challenges as well as external threats and disruptions. 

Q: What are the impacts on companies when they’re not leveraging on their CISO experts as part of their strategy in the boardroom? 

A: In cases like this, companies risk major misalignment in priorities between the CISO and the boardroom, where the risk of security can become an afterthought. 

In fact, APAC respondents reported that they had to cut back on cybersecurity staff because of this. This can lead to greater vulnerability within an organisation, which can result in significant business downtime, data breaches, financial losses, and damaged reputation. 

Q: Could you give us a little background into the CISO report? Its inception, purpose, the datasets that have been considered, and reach etc.

A: Splunk sits at the heart of security operations across many of the largest and most complex organisations in the world as we continue to build solutions that are customer focused. We wanted to know what security leaders across the world really thought about AI, and if CISOs were actually becoming more central to C-suites. 

The aim was to look at how we could offer actionable insights for leaders in the rapidly evolving cybersecurity landscape. The research was conducted through both quantitative and quality surveys with 350 security leaders across 10 countries. 

Q: What are the critical findings of the CISO report?

A: CISOs are now the C-suite, where 45% now report directly to their CEOs. However, CISOs and their C-suites are getting closer together, many still struggle with issues of misalignment with their board. Nonetheless, due to growing threats, the majority of CISOs are still expecting increases in cybersecurity budgets despite cuts in other areas of the organisation. 

Additionally, as expected, most believe that AI will and has already become central in the battle between attackers and defenders.

Finally, an interesting finding was how the large majority of organisations surveyed had actually paid attackers in ransomware attacks, with more than half paying at least $ 100,000. This puts a very tangible number on the importance of taking cybersecurity seriously. 

Q: How can critical emerging technologies, such as AI, quantum computing, biotech and cybersecurity, impact national security and economic prosperity? (With a special focus on the APAC region)

A: While we can only speak to AI and cybersecurity from our capacity as a technology provider, we see that emerging technologies have already become central when it comes to both security and economic prosperity. 

In fact, from a cybersecurity perspective, APAC saw the highest percentage of security leaders who had shifted towards a more strategic approach to cyber resilience. 

Given that APAC was one of the most affected by cyber-attacks (these are backed up by actual dollars paid to ransoms), emerging technologies such as AI will be crucial as an enabler in the race between bad actors and organisations, and even more so on the national level. 

Q: What is Splunk’s perspective on AI?

A: Love it or hate it, we know that AI is here to stay. In the world of ChatGPT where anyone can easily leverage on generative AI, organisations need to keep up and adapt accordingly.

Instead of fearing how AI might “steal your job”, we think of it in the same way as automation, where we combine it with human-in-the-loop experiences, so that organisations can drive faster detection, investigation and response while controlling how AI is applied to their data. It augments, rather than replaces users, and will serve as a pivotal driver in enabling greater innovation. 

Q: Armed with the findings of this CISO report, what happens next?

A: We are entering a new era of resilience, where CISOs working bubbles and silos are a thing of the past. Strategic collaboration with engineering and IT will be vital to becoming stronger, more secure, and importantly more resilient as an organisation. 

While it will not happen overnight, organisations will become more communicative and integrated internally to set themselves up for greater success. We believe that leaders will increasingly understand the importance of prioritising cyber security, and focus on modernising their security operations with AI/ML, automation, and unified solutions.

Q: Any further thoughts/comments that you would like to add?

A: To sum it up, boards are increasingly cognisant of the fact that “it takes a village” when it comes to cyber resilience, given how cyber risk has very tangibly become financial risk for most. 

While emerging technologies such as AI have introduced new opportunities, the same can be said for bad actors, thus organisations will need to be quick on their feet in adapting and leveraging these tools to level the playing fields.

The good news is that we are seeing CISOs and C-suites work closer together, and the same can be said for security and IT teams on the ground.