Category: Director Education

Global Directors Hear from Scientist on Encryption, Human Error, and Homer Simpson

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More information is hidden in plain sight than ever before. When the success of the global economy is hinged on the secure ownership of intellectual property and data, it behooves those who govern in the global company to understand how this information is being protected—and how it could be compromised. To that end, the National Association of Corporate Directors convened directors and cyber risk experts in Geneva, Switzerland, for its first Global Cyber Forum.

Dr. Simon Singh demonstrates the inner workings of an Enigma machine (Credit: Les Studios Casagrande).

Attendees from nearly every continent made their way to the Hotel President Wilson to confront the challenges of securing data across borders in light of complex and sometimes competing regulations. The European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which goes into effect on May 25, 2018, will be a watchword during each session. The complex and potentially costly regulation is likely to affect most companies that do business with or employ Europeans.

GDPR defines protected data far more broadly than the protections set by most country regulators. (Click here to learn more about the implications of GDPR.) Experts from international KPMG offices, cybersecurity firm Rapid7, AIG together with NACD cohosts Ridge Global and the Internet Security Alliance, will proffer their best advice on the interconnected challenges and solutions of cybersecurity oversight for today’s board directors.

NACD’s Global Cyber Forum commenced Tuesday night with a keynote presentation by popular scientist and author Dr. Simon Singh.

A particle physicist who completed his degree at Cambridge University while working at the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN), Singh has committed himself to helping everyday people understand some of the most complex concepts in modern math and science. He is the author of several books and won a BAFTA award for producing Fermat’s Last Theorem, a documentary based on the search to prove one of the most difficult mathematical theories in history.

Singh’s presentation in Geneva turned directors’ attention to “the history of secrecy,” a topic that he covers in his 1999 book, The Code Book: The Science of Secrecy from Ancient Egypt to Quantum Cryptography (Doubleday). He pointed to writers of the popular TV programs, The Simpsons and Futurama, to highlight how unexpected points about mathematics and science hidden in plain sight and how susceptible we are to finding patterns that may have absolutely no meaning.

He cited several instances of codes being found in popular texts or songs, including in the rock band Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven,” which when played in reverse has been interpreted to contain an evil message. When Singh queued up the song, at first no one in the audience heard any discernable words. Then he pointed to the lyrics on a slide deck and almost half of the audience “heard” the words. His point? To challenge the audience to be more skeptical and open to believing that which can be proven—or disproven—with rigorous evidence.

When the science of cryptography was introduced to the audience. Singh noted that messages can be found as a pattern almost anywhere—including in Moby-Dick, where one author found an inordinate number of passages pointing to history that had coincidentally happened since its publication in 1851. The human mind, however, has been able over the millennia to form some truly remarkable codes that have eluded prying eyes and minds for hundreds of years.

While some of the earliest computing machines, such as Enigma, developed during the First World War present nearly insurmountable odds against being deciphered, Singh reminded the audience that all ciphers are created by humans, and where there are humans, there is bound to be error. The same human curiosity and propensity to find patterns in behavior has led some skilled code-breakers such as those at the UK’s Bletchley Park who turned the tide of World War II by breaking codes.

Directors in the audience were challenged to think of the technologies that could protect their company’s own secrets while also considering the power—and foibles—of human error. Singh brought with him a prized possession: his very own Enigma machine.

When he turned to the audience to see if they had any questions about it after a brief demonstration, one attendee asked how the next frontier of quantum encryption would impact businesses. Singh pointed to the fact that scientists in Geneva were already sending messages encrypted at the quantum level within cities, and that others had sent quantum-secured messages via satellite. Quantum computing itself could make all encryption obsolete, he said. Such a development would render useless our current understanding of how to protect corporate assets, such as customer information and other data. He also noted that no one really knows what governments around the world have already achieved regarding this next frontier in information security.

 

Coverage of the full day of programming at the Global Cyber Forum is forthcoming in another installment of the blog and in the May/June issue of NACD Directorship magazine. 

The Future Is Now at CES

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The 2018 Consumer Electronics Show (CES) opened to the public yesterday in Las Vegas. With over 3,900 exhibitors from 29 countries, there is a lot to absorb.

For a group of some 40 directors, a sneak peek of CES given courtesy of the National Association of Corporate Directors (NACD) and Grant Thornton LLP provided a focused beginning to a three-day exploration of new technology—from robots to self-driving cars and augmented reality to smarter cities—and the implications for corporate governance.

To see more highlights from the floor, click here.

For Grant Thornton, supporting NACD’s first CES Experience underscores the accounting firm’s position “as a challenger brand in the marketplace,” said Michael Desmond, a partner and National Audit Industry & Growth Leader at Grant Thornton. “Being here at CES with a group of directors allows us to support our partnership with NACD and continue our reach into the marketplace at the C-suite and board levels. At the same time, this is where forward thinking and innovation are on display and all of these elements converge.”

Accompanying Desmond was David Wedding, a Grant Thornton partner who also chairs the firm’s board. “I’m here as a director myself and we, of course, are facing disruption in our industry from the impact of technology just like our customers. It will be interesting to see what’s trending and how other directors assess the ramifications of what we see.”

Maureen Conners, a director of Fashion Incubator in San Francisco and NACD’s Northern California Chapter, and former director of Deckers Brands, has been attending CES for at least 15 years. “The best advice I would give to any one coming to CES is not to be afraid to ask the dumb questions,” she said. Conners worked in product development at Gillette, Levi Strauss, and Mattel and started attending CES when as a consultant she helped Polaroid launch its first digital camera. She spoke of how seeing a driverless car maneuver onto a stage during an Intel presentation on Monday night stirred questions for her about how they will ultimately be used.

“I must admit it’s different seeing it in person,” she said.

Liane Pelletier, a director who was on the tour, serves on the boards of ATN International, Expeditors International, and NACD’s Northwest Chapter, echoed that sentiment: “It’s one thing to read about discrete enabling technologies that can disrupt our companies, and it’s entirely different to see and envision all of the use cases.”

Some of the other new products that stand to have industry-altering impacts included: a concept bed from Reverie that adjusts itself based on brain-wave activity; a self-driving Lyft vehicle; and a plush Aflac duck robot with three patents pending that uses a mixed-reality app to help comfort kids coping with cancer.

Come back tomorrow for additional coverage of NACD and Grant Thornton’s board-focused CES Experience.

Tools & Insights for Effective Board and Director Evaluations

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The practice of conducting full-board, committee, and/or individual-director evaluations has largely become commonplace. Ninety percent of respondents to the 2016─2017 NACD Public Company Governance Survey: Aggregate Results say their companies conduct full-board evaluations. Approximately 78 percent of respondents facilitate committee evaluations, and 41 percent conduct individual director evaluations, the survey finds.

The New York Stock Exchange since 2003 has required listed companies to disclose how their boards address evaluations. Although Nasdaq-listed companies have no such requirements, many conduct these assessments to enhance governance standards. NACD has long been an advocate for routine board, committee, and individual-director evaluations as part of a larger strategy of continuous improvement.

In keeping with these listing requirements and recommendations from our research, NACD recently created the Resource Center on Board Evaluations. Resource centers are repositories for NACD content, services, and events related to top-of-mind issues for directors. In these resource centers, individuals can find practical guidance, tools, and analyses on subjects varying from board diversity to cyber-risk oversight. Below we have highlighted a sample of helpful materials from our new board-evaluations resource center.

Thought Leadership & Research

The Report of the NACD Blue Ribbon Commission on Board Evaluation: Improving Director Effectiveness explores how boards and directors can use self- and peer-assessments to enhance board performance and director effectiveness. The report emphasizes that, while there is no one-size-fits-all approach to board evaluations, a commitment to ongoing assessments is indispensable when it comes to enhancing  corporate governance practices and performance.

Expert Commentary

The NACD Directorship magazine article “The Argument for Yearly Board Evaluations” by Salvatore Melilli, national audit industry leader for private markets at KPMG, examines the importance of assessments specifically for private company boards. Less than half (48%) of respondents to the 2016─2017 NACD Private Company Governance Survey say their boards conduct full-board evaluations.  Melilli’s article highlights several reasons why evaluations are critical to improving oversight evaluations. They can help vet company and board culture, identify gaps in talent or skillsets, and streamline processes for the board to engage in difficult conversations with the executive team.

Boardroom Tools & Templates

This resource center’s boardroom tools and templates are segmented by evaluation type—full-board, committee, and individual-director levels. The tools offer questions and considerations that help boards and directors ask questions that can drive healthy conversations about strengths and areas of improvement.

Videos & Webinars

An NACD video series featured in the resource center focuses on the role board evaluations play in improving governance practices. One video in the series, called “Why Confidentiality is Key,” focuses on the benefits of confidentiality in the evaluation process. Another video, “Transform Insight into Action,” discusses the value of creating tailored educational or development programs based on insights that emerge from evaluations.

If you would like help finding resources on a specific subject matter, please let us know. We welcome the opportunity to engage with directors on pressing needs and concerns.