Robert P. Silvers is a respected expert on Internet of Things security and effective corporate planning and response to cybersecurity incidents. Silvers is a partner at Paul Hastings and previously served as the Obama administration’s assistant secretary for cyber policy at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. Silvers will speak at NACD’s 2017 Global Board Leaders’ Summit in October and NACD’s Technology Symposium in July.
Robert P. Silvers
Cybersecurity breaches pose a growing threat to any organization. As we’ve seen in recent years, and indeed in recent weeks, the most sophisticated companies and even governments aren’t immune from cyberattack. Ransomware has become a global menace, and payment data and customers’ personal information are routinely swiped and sold on the “dark web” in bulk. Next-generation Internet of Things devices are wowing consumers, but they are also targets, as Internet connectivity becomes standard-issue in more and more product lines.
How do directors prepare for this landscape? Everyone now acknowledges the importance of cybersecurity, but it is daunting to begin to think about implementing a cybersecurity plan because it’s technical, fast-moving, and has no “silver-bullet” solutions. Most boards now consult regularly with the organization’s information security team, but the discussions can be frustrating because it’s hard to gauge readiness and where the organization really stands in comparison to its peers. Sometimes directors confide in me, quietly and on the sidelines, that their real cybersecurity strategy is one of hope and prayer.
There are steps directors can take now to prepare for incidents so that when they occur the company’s response is well oiled. With the right resources and preparation, boards can safely navigate these difficult and unforeseen situations. Three key strategies can assist directors as they provide oversight for cybersecurity risks:
Building relationships with law enforcement officials
Having incident response plans in place (and practicing them)
Staying educated on cybersecurity trends
1. Building Relationships With Law Enforcement Officials
It’s no secret that relationships are central to success. Building the right relationships now, before your worst-case scenario happens, will help manage the situation. The Federal Bureau of Investigation is generally the lead federal investigative agency when it comes to cybercrime, and the United States Secret Service also plays an important role in the financial services and payment systems sectors.
Boards should ensure company management educates law enforcement officials from these agencies about the company’s business and potential risks. In turn, the company should ask law enforcement to keep it apprised of emergent threats in real time. There should also be designated points of contact on each side to allow for ongoing communications and make it clear whom to contact during an incident. This is critical to ensuring that the company has allies already in place in the event that a cyberattack occurs.
2. Having—and Practicing—Incident Response Plans
Directors should ask to see copies of the company’s written cyberbreach response plan. This document is essential. A good incident response plan addresses the many parallel efforts that will need to take place during a cyberattack, including:
a. Technical investigation and remediation;
b. Public relations messaging;
c. Managing customer concern and fallout;
d. Managing human resources issues, particularly if employee data has been stolen or if the perpetrator of the attack is a rogue employee;
e. Coordination with law enforcement; and
f. Coordination with regulators and preparedness for the civil litigation that increasingly follows cyberattacks.
An incident response plan is only valuable if it is updated, if all the relevant divisions within a company are familiar with it, and if these divisions have “buy in” to the process. If the plan is old or a key division doesn’t feel bound by it, the plan isn’t going to work. Directors should insist the plan be updated regularly and that the company’s divisions exercise the plan through simulated cyber incidents, often called “table-top exercises.” Indeed, table-top exercises for the board itself can be an excellent way to familiarize directors with the company’s incident response plan and its cyber posture more generally.
3. Staying educated on cyber security trends
As your board is building relationships with law enforcement officials and preparing an incident response plan, directors should also be educating themselves on cyber risk. Cybersecurity becomes more approachable as you invest the time to learn—and it’s a fascinating subject that directors enjoy thinking about. Do you know what a breach will look like for your company? What protocols do you have in place in case something happens?
According to the 2016–2017 NACD Public Company Governance Survey, 89 percent of public company directors said cybersecurity is discussed regularly during board meetings. Since a majority of directors in the room agree that cybersecurity is worth discussing, directors should collectively and individually prioritize learning the ins and outs of cyber risks.
One easy way to stay up to date on the latest is to ask the company’s information technology security team for periodic reports of the most significant security events that the company has encountered. This will give directors a feel for the rhythm of threats the company faces day in and day out.
Another option is for directors to take a professional course and get certified. The NACD Cyber-Risk Oversight Program is a great example of a course designed to help directors enhance their cybersecurity literacy and strengthen the board’s role in providing oversight for cyber preparedness. Consider these options to keep yourself as educated and informed as possible.
The more you can prepare individually, the better off you will be when you have to provide oversight for a cybersecurity breach at your company.
My introduction to cybercrime came seven years ago as a bolt from the blue. I Googled myself and found that four of the top five search results showed I was on the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s (FBI) Top Ten Most Wanted List.
The attack came as a bolt from the blue.
After checking outside my front door to make sure no FBI agents were lining up to arrest me, I researched what had happened. I was the victim of an Internet stalker—a previous business associate looking to mar reputations of people this person had had no contact with for nearly two decades.
This experience personally taught me the harm that could be done through the Internet and the unique nature of the risks involved, and sparked my commitment to practicing sound cyber-risk oversight.
Cybersecurity as a Risk
Cyber risks have unique characteristics that not many of the more than 60 different risks reported in public companies’ 10-K reporting share. Most other risks and the damage they cause, although highly detrimental to a company, can be assessed and quantified (consider, for example, the cost of rebuilding after a fire). Cyber risk is different because a victim of a cyberattack may never be able to find out who attacked the company or person, where the attack came from, what was taken, or how long the attack had been going on for.
The most striking feature of cyberattacks is their anonymity. It is very difficult to trace an attacker who wants to stay anonymous. An attacker can create dummy corporations, hijack e-mail accounts, and use multiple servers to become virtually untraceable. Another method that hackers use to hide themselves is the virtual private network, which make it very challenging to track where the attack originated. Say the intrusion appears to have come through a server in Singapore. The attacker actually could be in Estonia. Even if you can trace the perpetrator, getting redress would mean international ligation.
What are they taking? Unless the attacker is confronting you with a ransom demand for your data, you may not know what is being taken or corrupted without extensive and time-consuming forensics.
Lastly, how long has this been going on? For the same reasons that it is difficult to identify what is being stolen, the time of the origination of the attack is hard to assess. Often known as “Logic Bombs,” malicious software can lie dormant for long periods, and sometimes years, before it is activated. The classic example is the disgruntled employee who leaves malware that activates itself on the anniversary of his firing.
You Are Not Invulnerable
One of the worse mistakes a board can make is to assume that they are at a lower state of cyber risk, as their corporation is not a bank or does not store credit card information. If the company transfers money and is connected to the Internet, which means just about every company in the United States and many around the world, the company is at high risk for being attacked. Banks and retailers are at extremely high risk. Low risk simply does not exist in the cyber-risk spectrum.
For most companies, the principal vulnerability is economic. Simply put, attackers are trying to make money. Besides stealing information such as employee health care data, or social security numbers that can be sold on the black market, an increasingly popular form of attack is to lock out the company from its data, or encrypt it and charge a ransom to release it or decrypt it.
Brand and reputation attacks are another vulnerability done more to discredit a company’s reputation for either competitive or political motives. To take an obvious example, imagine the damage to a cybersecurity company’s reputation if its own firewalls were breached. Such an attack would deeply harm the core promise that a cybersecurity company makes to its customers to secure its enterprise.
Hacktivism, as the name connotes, is an attack launched based on the attacker’s beliefs and ideologies. For instance, a company that tests its products on animals could find itself as a hacktivism target. Typically, the attacker will post messages about the cause on the company’s website or contact its customers and suppliers.
Lastly, malicious attacks can be launched to inconvenience and disrupt the company such as in the Logic Bomb attack described above. There is usually no economic effect—vengeance is the principal motive.
Since her “arrival” on the FBI’s Top Ten Most Wanted list, Wendy Luscombe has led a real estate investment trust as CEO, served as a director on European and American boards, and studied cybersecurity and cyber-reputation management. All views and opinions expressed here are the author’s own.
While prominent companies and healthcare institutions around the world were reacting to a ransomware attack known as WanaCryptor 2.0, or WannaCry, a young man working for a cybersecurity firm in southeast England landed on a solution that cost just $10.69. He found the so-called “kill switch” in the malware’s code that involved the simple purchase of an unregistered domain name. He promptly registered the domain, halting WannaCry’s spread. The identity of this cyberknight remains anonymous, but one notable fact about his background has emerged: he’s only 22 years old.
According to a 2015 study by the Center for Cyber Safety and Education, the average age of security practitioners is 45 years old. Many security professionals will leave the workforce within the next 20 years, but younger professionals are not seeking careers in cybersecurity at a pace sufficient to keep up with companies’ demands. Developing a workforce that will be prepared to meet companies’ increasingly complex cybersecurity needs means companies—and educators—will need to build a bigger, more inclusive talent pipeline for people interested in the practice.
When I spoke with cybersecurity expert Summer C. Fowler for the cover story of the May/June 2017 issue of NACD Directorship magazine, I asked about her work at Carnegie Mellon University to recruit diverse candidates to the programs she leads at the CERT Division of the Software Engineering Institute. One look at her Twitter profile illustrates that she’s a passionate supporter of the Cyburgh, PA Initiative, a program developed in partnership between Carnegie Mellon and the Pittsburgh Technology Council to advance the city’s status as a leader in cybersecurity technology. The initiative could not be successful without being inclusive.
“The issue of building a talent pipeline is such a challenge because of what we’re offering by way of schooling,” Fowler said about the role of university-level education in developing the cybersecurity talent pipeline. She then drew a parallel between the education and training of doctors in the 1970s to the challenges the cybersecurity sector has with finding diverse candidates. “When you look back to the early 1970s, the medical field was exactly the same. Only about 11 percent of doctors were women. There also were not many minority doctors in this country. We’re investigating what changes in the medical community were made to bring in more women and underrepresented minorities, so that we can do the exact same thing with computer science and engineering fields.”
Fowler pointed out that there needs to be further delineation of roles in the cybersecurity industry to clarify the hierarchy of talent desired. “When we talk about cybersecurity, we all think about a Ph.D. from Carnegie Mellon or from Stanford,” Fowler said. “We need to get better at differentiating the roles and what training requirements are. When we get there, I think that striation of roles will naturally open a pipeline to more people who are interested in the field because it would be seen as this daunting job that requires a Ph.D.”
Still another challenge exists: getting diverse talent interested in the topic to begin with. I shared with Fowler an anecdote from my own high school experience. My path diverged from that of a male friend who was interested in white-hat hacking, which is the technology industry term for the benevolent hacking of systems to detect vulnerabilities. While I was curious about the world of professionals who were defending against cyberattacks, I had no outlet for learning about programming at the time. No one at my public high school in inner-city Memphis was engaging young women in learning about computer science in 2004, and my friend had family who supported and encouraged his interest.
Fast forward nearly 13 years later, and my friend is a practicing white-hat hacker for a Fortune 500 company. I, on the other hand, earned my bachelor’s degree in creative writing, and have since revived my interest in the topic and write about it from a governance perspective. Could I have been working at the same company with the helpful nudges of invested educators, or with after school programs for young women like Girls Who Code that are sponsored by interested corporations? Fowler seems to think the answer is “yes.”
She suggests that the solution now will not be to bring girls and young women to technology, but to bring discussions of technology to them within contexts that interest them. “Instead of saying to girls, ‘You need to belong to the computer science club,’ talk to them about what computer science might mean to ballet, or to whatever program they’re involved in.” She suggested discussing breaches to the entertainment industry with young people interested in acting or movies, for instance, as a way to pique their interest in a field they might not have considered before.
Ultimately, one of the greatest challenges to building the cybersecurity pipeline will involve developing aptitude tests, then encouraging promising young people to pursue a career down that pipeline. “It’s also a matter of figuring out what the specific competencies are. We’ve done a really good job for lots of different types of jobs at being able to say, ‘Let’s perform an assessment to see what your skills are and what you’d like to be doing.’ That process enables us to say, ‘Wow, you would make a great attorney, or you would make a really good financial analyst.’ We don’t have that in the realm of cybersecurity.
Building out more roles in cybersecurity and advocating for the inclusion of the role into other career aptitude tests would help young people—and perhaps even more women—to get excited to join the ranks of cyberkinghts in the future.
Katie Swafford is assistant editor of NACD Directorship magazine and also serves as editor of NACD’s Board Leaders’ Blog.