Directors Target of New Cybersecurity Training

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By Andrea Vittorio

Dec. 5 — No company is immune from cybersecurity threats, not even a chocolate maker.

Take it from the nation’s first Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge, who now sits on the board of Hershey Co. He says every company is a digital company, including the Pa.-based manufacturer of Kisses and Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups. Hershey—which uses information technology to manage manufacturing, sales and other business processes—regularly updates its directors on how digital assets and data are being protected.

“I think more and more companies are beginning to believe that they may sell a product, they may sell a service, they may sell both,” Ridge, who advised the president on national security from just after the Sept. 11 attacks until 2005, told Bloomberg BNA. “But it’s all based on a digital infrastructure that is more and more vulnerable every day.”

To help boards get a better handle on hacking risks, his consulting firm, Ridge Global LLC, is teaming up with the National Association of Corporate Directors and Carnegie Mellon University to offer a first-of-its-kind cybersecurity training program geared at directors. Starting in mid-January, directors will learn about their role and responsibilities in cybersecurity oversight.

From credit cards at Target Corp. to e-mails at Sony Pictures Entertainment Inc., board members don’t need to look any further than the headlines to see their companies are being targeted by hackers, Ridge said.

Thirst for Knowledge

An organization will face more than 100 focused and targeted breach attempts every year, on average, in addition to the thousands to millions of random attempts that company networks repel each week. One in three of those targeted attempts will succeed, according to a recent study by Accenture Plc.

“The demand is there,” NACD President Peter Gleason told Bloomberg BNA. “When we start talking about cyber, you can tell that there’s a thirst for knowledge among the director community.”

Corporate directors surveyed by BDO Consulting say cybersecurity is taking up more and more of their time. But for most boards, interest in cybersecurity outweighs understanding. Only 14 percent of directors surveyed by NACD think they have a high level of cyberliteracy.

Part of the problem is the language barrier between security professionals and board members. “Both sides of the table need to work on their literacy,” said Ryan LaSalle, who directs Accenture’s global security practice strategy.

Avoiding Jargon

Communications skills are considered the single-most important attribute for successful information security professionals, according to a survey of the workforce by the International Information System Security Certification Consortium. The consortium specializes in information security education and certifications.

“Speaking to [directors] in plain English and in the language of a board would go a long way towards bridging the gap,” LaSalle told Bloomberg BNA.

The NACD program will try to avoid technical jargon as it teaches directors about issues such as cyber insurance and breach notification. The course will also simulate a cyber crisis and test corporate leadership’s preparedness to respond.

“We don’t expect a director to have the level of expertise that someone in the field would have,” Summer Craze Fowler, who teaches in the cybersecurity risk and resilience program at Carnegie Mellon, told Bloomberg BNA. “But we want them to have a familiarity with the concepts and to understand, most importantly, what questions they should be asking of the cybersecurity experts in their company.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Andrea Vittorio in Washington at avittorio@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Yin Wilczek at ywilczek@bna.com

For More Information

More information on the cybersecurity certificate is available at https://www.nacdonline.org/CyberCertificate.

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