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Why CEOs Must Make Boardroom Cybersecurity A Top Focus For The Board

Most CEOs are plenty aware of the dire consequences and scary statistics around cybersecurity these days. It’s hard not to be.

From ransomware to crypto jacking to everything in between, the volume of just about all types of cyberattacks grew over the past two years, according to a recent report from SonicWall. While the number of threats continues to rise, so do the associated costs. IBM’s report found that the average data breach in 2021 was $4.24 million. This is a 10% year-over-year increase—and the highest average total cost in the 17 years IBM has produced this report.

And while there are many attack vectors—or paths that a hacker takes to initiate a breach—compromised credentials top the list. IBM’s annual Cost of a Data Breach found 20% of breaches in 2021 came from compromised credentials.

The damage of a board-related breach can be especially debilitating. Board members typically have access to sensitive, valuable information about the organizations they serve—especially when compared with the typical employee.

While the monetary consequences of a breach can be devastating, that’s just the beginning of the story. A breach—especially one that’s not handled well—can also have a large, lasting, negative impact on an organization. Once trust is lost, it can be difficult (if not impossible) to restore.

When it Comes to Cybersecurity, Directors Have a Key Role to Play

At first blush, it seems the importance of cybersecurity is well understood by board directors. OnBoard’s 2022 Board Effectiveness Survey found that the vast majority of board directors, administrators and staff members perceive cybersecurity as key to their organizations’ success. Yet, blind spots are extremely common. Per a recent report from IDG Communications , well over half (57%) of CIOs see a need for security improvements.

Board directors once turned a blind eye on cybersecurity, leaving it to the organization’s employees to handle. That’s no longer an option. Boards must take an active role in mitigating risk—starting with their own. But what can they do?

Decrease the Risk of a Cyberattack

As the saying goes, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. With that in mind, there are certain steps to prevent attacks from happening in the first place. For starters, CEOs must make sure directors hold themselves to the same cybersecurity standards as the organization’s employees. In addition, organizations should invest in cybersecurity infrastructure—and ensure board members are trained in its use.

In addition, all board materials, including meeting minutes, should be managed through a secure, centralized platform. Sending attachments via personal email accounts secure, which makes it easier for sensitive information to land in the wrong hands. Personal and board email accounts are also subject to discovery in litigation.

All board members should not have the same level of access to materials—especially in the case of a conflict of interest. Board members should have easy access to everything they need, but nothing more.

Finally, require board members to communicate securely. The ideal choice is through a secure board portal.

Mitigate the Impact of an Attack

While prevention is paramount, there’s no way to eliminate the risk of a cyberattack, so it’s important to be prepared should a breach occur. Ensure CIOs and IT teams have the resources and budgets necessary to meet (or even exceed) cybersecurity best practices.

Look for opportunities to bolster the board’s cybersecurity know-how. Seek new board members who have cybersecurity expertise. Having this expertise on the board will make it much easier to take the actions necessary to ensure security.

Board trainings, skills tracking and board assessments are some tools to help organizations stay on top of this and identify gaps early on.

Finally, consider adding a cybersecurity oversight committee to the board. This committee will take a more hands-on approach to cybersecurity oversight, and report to the larger board.

Now Is the Time to Act

The risk of a cyberattack, data breach, or other incident has never been higher, and the role of the board is evolving. Board directors must provide appropriate oversight to decrease the risk of a cyberattack – and lessen the impact if one does occur.


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