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In a global poll of 165 senior executives across function and geography for the latest Gartner, Inc. Emerging Risks Monitor Report, ‘Cyber security control failures’ was listed as the top emerging risk in the first quarter of 2021.

Despite a myriad of risks resulting from the pandemic, such as the new work environment and environmental, social and governance (ESG) concerns, cyber security risk was singled out with notable consistency across all geographic regions and most industries, cited by 67 percent of respondents. The next highest cited risk, ‘the new working model’ was cited by 43 percent of respondents.

“Many organizations were forced to implement quick fixes to serious operational gaps as a result of their initial pandemic responses,” said Matt Shinkman, vice president with the Gartner Risk and Audit Practice. “Nowhere has that been more apparent than in cyber security policies that have prioritized on-premises security over secure remote work access. Executives responsible for these areas are realizing that the time to enact more sustainable and robust policies is now.” 

Internal risks related to operational and cultural capacities continued to be most pressing to the executives polled and made up the top five emerging risks selected in 1Q21.

The top five risks by overall risk score and nature of risk were:


1Q 2021

Internal or External Risk?


Cyber security Control Failures



The New Working Model



Remote Talent Management



Organizational Cultural Degradation



Strategic Corrections


Source: Gartner (April 2021)

The roots of executive concerns around cyber security control failures come from the hasty implementation of remote work brought on by the pandemic and ensuing lockdowns. IT teams were forced to quickly scale up VPN access to the entire organization. Security teams had to immediately reorient their risk postures from a focus on securing on-premises operations to developing remote work access policies on the fly. While access management issues were a focus of the initial response, consensus among executives polled suggests that more work needs to be done as increased remote work becomes a permanent feature of the new work environment.

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