Data Hacking: What Boards Members Need to Know

Boards of directors are finding themselves in a position of having to shore up their tech skills in an area where, a year ago, they didn’t have any skills at all beyond simply asking the CTO, “Is our data security working? Great. Good. Have a nice day.” Now they’re struggling simply to understand the right questions to ask.

In the time known as “BT:” or “Before Target,” cyber-security was considered a turnkey process that required zero involvement from the top brass. Not so today.

With the big box retailer’s CEO Gregg Steinhafel and its board being personally blamed by the media for the poor response to its mega-hacking situation last year, every CEO is being put in the hotseat and taking a vested interest in whether their system is adequate for today and for the future.

This is forcing board members to delve into unfamiliar territory. Some companies, such as Delta Airlines, are adding people with technical skills to their board. Others are still trying to figure out what it all means.

Most companies realize they are sitting on a house of cards that could collapse at any moment. While customer data is a company’s lifeblood, there are other types of data at risk today as well, such as secret food recipes, product formulas and chemical equations, and board members are beginning to question whether that private information is adequately secure.

A recent article in The Wall Street Journal revealed that Kellogg’s is concerned hackers may steal priceless information such as their Rice Krispies ‘Snap, Crackle & Pop’ recipe, or the exact curve of a Pringles potato chip.

Dove has advertised for years that it is one quarter moisturizing cream; the consumer products firm has never felt threatened that anyone could duplicate that key product. Should it be worried now?

As digital natives age into the workforce and move up the management ladder, understanding cyber-security will be second nature to them. But for now, board members are turning their boardrooms into classrooms where the CTO and CIO are the teachers, and they’re hoping for a good grade.