KPMG LLP has published the most recent findings from its ninth annual CEO Outlook which shows that the majority of Canadian CEOs surveyed – more than 93 per cent – are worried about the emergence of generative artificial intelligence (AI), saying it will make their companies even more vulnerable to breaches. Of those surveyed, only 56 per cent say their companies are prepared for cyberattack today.

“Canadian organizations vulnerable to cyber attacks look to generative AI for help, but see it as a double-edged sword that could embolden criminals,” they state. While survey respondents agree that AI could help their organizations detect and respond to cyber threats, they are also simultaneously worried that the technology will provide new attack methods for criminals.

KPMG adds that one-third of Canadian CEOs who said their organizations are underprepared say the primary cause is outdated technology, systems and infrastructure, increasing sophistication of criminals and a lack of investment in cyber defences. “Less that five per cent said their organization is very well prepared for a cyberattack,” they write.

Small and medium-sized businesses, meanwhile, reported a higher level of preparedness for cyberattacks than their larger counterparts, with 88 per cent saying they are well prepared to defend against such an attack. This is up from 73 per cent reported a year earlier. Still, 59 per cent of these leaders say their company doesn’t have a plan to address potential ransomware attacks – this despite the fact that six in 10 said they’ve paid a ransom within the last three years.

Among the challenges cited by small and medium-sized businesses, legacy systems and infrastructure topped the list, followed by a lack of skilled personnel and a lack of financial resources to invest in cyber defenses. A notable 62 per cent of small and medium-sized company business leaders said cyber security is not a business priority.

Among the survey’s other findings, concerns about regulatory risk dropped from the top spot in 2022 to fourth in 2023. Talent remains a concern – 88 per cent say they are expected to increase their headcount in the coming three years; 77 per cent said labour shortages and a lack of skilled workers pose a threat to Canadian organizations. The companies’ leaders, they say, “believe a holistic approach between government, industry and academic institutions will be required to create meaningful, long-term solutions to address the problem.” 

The report also looks at return-to-office plans and aspirations CEOs have, their investment in technology (75 per cent of Canadian CEOs say generative AI is a top investment priority) and growing environmental, social and governance barriers and concerns.