Board Oversight of Cyber Risk in the Wake of the Yahoo Breach

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The major cyber breach that Yahoo announced last week has ripple effects not only for the multimedia platform, but for every company. The incident already has caught the attention of a senator who is calling on the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) to investigate how Yahoo disclosed the breach to shareholders and the public.

Background on the Breach

Ashley Marchand Orme

Ashley Marchand Orme

Account data for at least 500 million users was stolen by what Yahoo has called a “state-sponsored actor” in what CNN Money calls one of the largest data breaches ever. Compromised information includes names, email addresses, phone numbers, dates of birth, encrypted passwords, and security questions.

Yahoo has not named a country of origin for the hacker. The company, which Verizon is seeking to acquire, is still one of the busiest online sites, boasting one billion monthly users.

The breach occurred in late 2014, according to Yahoo, but the company just disclosed the incident in a press release dated Sept. 22, 2016. The Financial Times reports that Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer may have known about the breach as early as July of this year, raising questions as to why it wasn’t disclosed sooner.

Attention From Lawmakers

Sen. Mark R. Warner (D.-VA), a member of the Senate Intelligence and Banking Committees and cofounder of the Senate Cybersecurity Caucus, sent a letter to the SEC yesterday asking the agency to investigate whether Yahoo complied with federal securities law regarding how and when it disclosed the incident.

“Data security increasingly represents an issue of vital importance to management, customers, and shareholders, with major corporate liability, business continuity, and governance implications,” the senator wrote.

Warner—who cofounded the company that became Nextel, a wireless service operator that merged with Verizon—also told the SEC that “since published reports indicate fewer than 100 of approximately 9,000 publicly listed companies have reported a material data breach since 2010, I encourage you to evaluate the adequacy of current SEC thresholds for disclosing events of this nature.”

And Warner isn’t the only lawmaker pushing for increased cyber regulations. Earlier this month, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo (D-NY) announced proposed cybersecurity regulations to increase the responsibility of banks and insurance to protect their information systems and customer information. The regulations, if instated, would apply to companies regulated by the New York Department of Financial Services (NYDFS) and would require them to—among other steps—establish a cybersecurity policy and incident response plan. Companies would also have to notify the NYDFS within 72 hours of any cyber event that is likely to affect operations or nonpublic information.

The Boardroom Response

Any company—whether public, private, or nonprofit—can fall prey to a breach, and even companies with formal cybersecurity plans can find themselves the victims of a breach. Preliminary data from the 2016-2017 NACD Public Company Governance Survey show what corporate directors are already doing to oversee cyber-related risks.

When asked which cybersecurity oversight practices the survey respondents’ boards had performed over the past 12 months—and directors could select multiple answers—the most common responses included:

  • Reviewed the company’s current approach to protecting its most critical data assets (76.6%)
  • Reviewed the technology infrastructure used to protect the company’s most critical data assets (73.6%)
  • Communicated with management about the types of cyber-risk information the board requires (64.4%)
  • Reviewed the company’s response plan in the case of a breach (59.3%).

“Corporate directors should ask management for an accurate and externally validated report on the state of the organization with respect to cyber risk,” said Robert Clyde, a board director for ISACA, which is a global IT and cybersecurity professional association, and White Cloud Security. “They should also ask what framework is being followed for IT governance.”

Aside from high-profile breaches of emails and email providers, Clyde says that breaches related to ransomware are increasing.

“Ransomware encrypts data that can only be decrypted by paying the attacker a fee in Bitcoins.  According to the NACD Cyber-Risk Oversight Handbook and many other organizations, the key control to reduce the risk of attack—including ransomware—is restricting user installation of applications, called ‘whitelisting’ or ‘Trusted App Listing,’” Clyde said. “Yet this highly recommended control is rarely implemented. Boards should ask organizations for their plans to implement this specific control.”

NACD Resources

NACD recently announced a new online cybersecurity learning program for directors. The multi-module course aims to enhance directors’ understanding of cybersecurity, and the difference between the board’s and management’s responsibilities related to cyber risks. Participants in the program, which is the product of partnership between NACD, Ridge Global, and the CERT Division of Carnegie Mellon University’s Software Engineering Institute, will work through a cyber-crisis simulation and take a comprehensive exam. Successful completion of the program will earn the participant a CERT Certificate in Cybersecurity Oversight.

For board-level tools and templates to fortify your oversight practices, visit NACD’s Cyber-Risk Oversight Resource Center.

 

 

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