Take These Five Lessons from NACD’s Cyber Summit Back to Your Board

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NACD held its third annual Cyber Summit in Chicago on June 21, 2017, in partnership with the Internet Security Alliance (ISA). This year’s event followed in the wake of cyber incidents such as WannaCry and the hacking of the Democratic National Committee’s email account, as well as Europe’s adoption of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and the implementation of China’s Cybersecurity Law.

NACD members left the Cyber Summit with valuable lessons to share with their colleagues.

Speakers acknowledged this context and focused on topics such as building a cyber-risk culture, insider threats, cyber-risk regulation, the threat of state-sponsored attacks, and the economics of cybersecurity. (Click here for a list of event sessions and speakers.)

Five key takeaways emerged for director attendees at the 2017 NACD Cyber Summit:

1. Actively learn from cyber incidents at other companies. A bill that aims to require cyber expertise on public company boards has surfaced twice in Congress since 2015. However, Melissa Hathaway—president at Hathaway Global Strategies and senior advisor at Harvard Kennedy School’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs—believes boards do not necessarily need to have a director who is an expert in cybersecurity. Hathaway, who delivered a keynote at the cyber summit, suggests boards regularly hold conversations about current events in cybersecurity, and review a cyber-event case study at each quarterly meeting.

2. Work toward a public-private partnership. Hathaway emphasized the benefit of forming a public-private partnership in the United States to serve as a medium for information sharing about cyberattacks. Canadians have already formed such an organization. The Canadian Cyber Threat Exchange is an independent nonprofit that functions as a middleman between the public and private sectors. According to Hathaway, the U.S. government itself has been a victim of a number of cyberattacks exposing personal data, which has cost it credibility with the private sector. Thus far, U.S. corporations have been largely reluctant to share information about cyberattacks with a government that may not be seen as equipped to adequately respond. At the same time, the government classifies data on cyberattacks that limits information sharing with the private sector.

3. Consider having the CISO report directly to the board. The 2016–2017 NACD Public Company Governance Survey indicates that only 31 percent of boards receive reports directly from the chief information security officer (CISO), despite the increased prevalence and importance of the role. Bret Arsenault, corporate vice president and CISO at Microsoft, indicated that the frequency of meetings between the CISO and the board depends on the board’s existing cyber knowledge. As Microsoft’s CISO, Arsenault conducts a quarterly review with both the full board and the audit committee, in addition to meeting with the CEO and the full leadership team for a half hour once each week. Having all members of senior management involved in the conversation helps set the tone at the top around cyber culture. See the 2017 Cyber-Risk Oversight Handbook for guidance on building a relationship with the CISO (p. 38) and questions for the board to ask management about cybersecurity (p. 21).

4. Strengthen a culture of secure behaviors. In providing oversight of cybersecurity, one aspect of the board’s role is to ensure that the organizational culture reinforces healthy cybersecurity behaviors. For this culture to take hold, it is essential that any cybersecurity-related issues be explained to the board—and employees—in a clear, understandable way. For example, the CISO should speak in business terms to the board and avoid using technical language, according to Arsenault. John Lhota, managing principal for global cybersecurity consulting services at SecureWorks, also suggested using gamification for employee cyber education programs. Directors should evaluate whether a culture of awareness about the importance of cybersecurity truly exists, beginning at the board level. See NACD’s Cyber-Risk Oversight Handbook for tools on assessing the board’s cybersecurity culture (p. 27) and establishing board-level cybersecurity metrics (p. 28).

5. Ensure access rights are limited and continuously monitored. Directors should discuss with management what the company’s most critical data assets—or, “crown jewels”—are, and who could access them. Many high-profile breaches have been carried out by employees or contractors with access to company networks. Robert Clyde, vice chair of ISACA and managing director for Clyde Consulting LLC, indicated the hiring process can aid in selecting trustworthy employees, but employees with administrative privileges (i.e., the ability to install certain software, access certain files, or change configuration settings) can become very destructive if they retaliate against the company after a job loss or make a mistake. The board should check with the CISO to make sure there are a very small number of employees that have administrative privileges on an everyday basis, with slightly more given access in an emergency. Adding secondary approvals—so that two people must be involved in a process—further constrains the possibility of someone accidentally deleting data or removing it on purpose. Access for those with administrative privileges should be amended the second those individuals change jobs, according to Robert Zandoli, director of the ISA and global chief information security officer at BUNGE Ltd.

For more information on providing cybersecurity oversight, please see the following NACD resources:

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