Director Nightmare #2: Cybersecurity

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May 31, 2013

It’s no wonder cybersecurity is the #2 issue that keeps corporate directors up at night. The news abounds with stories about Chinese cyber espionage, overzealous Department of Justice probes, multi-million dollar ATM thefts, crippling denial of service attacks and leaks from social media and “rogue” employees. In some respects the public is numb to all this (unless that was your credit card number that was broadcast). But directors are and should be worried. The Internet can be a risky place.

The threats may seem overwhelming. How can a company avoid the global spread of malware? Don’t the Patriot Act and FISA allow the feds access to a company’s records without its knowledge anyway? Won’t overseas companies copy your products somehow no matter what? What is Twitter about?

The reality is that cyber risks can be thwarted and mitigated with good security risk management programs and IP protection programs. These programs aren’t just about having the latest technology. Proper use of technology and company data by people is the key. In fact, employees, not bad technology, are the source of 56% of data breaches, according to a hospital survey. Breathe: employees are trainable.

Changes in technology are a factor, however. The cloud, smartphones and social media are new avenues for company data delivery, access and storage. A company’s internal IT security protocols are important but becoming less relevant as more data moves to the cloud. Yet, another survey showed that only 50% of company IT security professionals reviewed the security practices of the cloud and SaaS providers that their company uses. Like employees, cloud providers have varying levels of sophistication and attention to data security. That’s a lot of unassessed risk.

Next, more employees use their own smartphones and tablets to access the company systems, creating zillions of copies of company data on uncontrolled devices. Well, uncontrolled at 76% of companies’ since only 24% report having BYOD (bring your own device) policies. Even company issued devices don’t necessarily come with security guidelines.

Social media, meaning Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and the like, are the electronic versions of newspapers and press releases – except that they are used by lots of employees, reach many more people and are instantaneous. Directors who are used to all company statements being carefully crafted through the PR department may find their company’s use of social media frightening. And, if the company doesn’t have a policy for social media use, it may be at risk for leaks about company strategies or misinformation about products, not to mention embarrassments like photos of drunken staff parties. Social media is a very easy way for employees and customers to spread information which represents the company. It is a great marketing and advertising tool but needs management to avoid damaging a company’s brand or worse.

Net, if a company’s internet use or email policies were written in the nineties, it’s time to give them a fresh look. And policies alone don’t fix things. A full compliance program which includes education, auditing and enforcement is required.

Ultimately all cyberthreats cannot be prevented. Directors sleep better if they know the company is prepared to manage a data security breach. While 63% of the directors surveyed felt comfortable that their company could manage a data security breach, they weren’t so happy with their companies’ crisis management plans. Those plans encompass such catastrophes as cyberattacks and natural disasters that shut down operations and corporate disgraces like tainted products, oil spills or executive fraud. 57% of board members said that they had reviewed their company’s crisis management plan within the last year, but only 34% said that they were very comfortable with the plan. 30% said they were not at all comfortable with the plan, the company had no plan, or they didn’t know if the company had a plan.

Corporate boards aren’t responsible for the day to day risk management of the company. But, when they hear about the cyber theft and cyber crises around the globe, they must know their company is prepared. A modern data security program, IP protection program and crisis management plan can significantly reduce threats from lazy or malicious employees, unsafe devices and rogue cloud installations.

Directors should be leading the charge when it comes to acknowledging cybersecurity.  Regardless of their technical backgrounds, Directors should be asking the right questions of their leadership to ensure key company threats are addressed.  If the company isn’t able to address these issues internally then it needs to bring in resources to take an objective look and implement best practices in the industry.  Proactive risk management should result in a boring outcome, meaning, there are no cybersecurity crises.  It definitely beats the alternative.