Investment Advisers Beware: Ransomware is Coming for You, SEC Says


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The WannaCry ransomware attack has received a lot of attention after it struck over 300,000 companies across 150 countries. Cybercriminals demanded payment in bitcoin to release files locked by a virus they planted. Cybersecurity professionals have said the attack should serve as a wake-up call for companies to up their internal security protocols. 

The global hacking attack also highlighted the regulatory and litigation risks to companies. Regulators, including the Federal Trade Commission, will be turning their sights on companies who don’t live up to the promises they make on their security protocols, attorneys recently told Bloomberg BNA. 

In the financial sector, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, put out a risk alert to investment advisers, soon after the ransomware attack, highlighting the need for continued cybersecurity risk assessments. Although the SEC—and many cybersecurity researchers and attorneys—say that advisers won’t be able to stop every cyberattack, they should still conduct routine penetration tests and vulnerability scans to limit cybersecurity risk. 

The SEC has been active in the cybersecurity game for several years. In 2011, it advised publicly traded companies that they should include potential cybersecurity risks in their reports to the commission.

Rob Silvers, privacy and cybersecurity partner at Paul Hastings LLP in Washington, told Bloomberg BNA that “it is pretty rare for the SEC to issue a risk alert for a specific threat, but it does reflect the seriousness with which the SEC views WannaCry.” There will likely be an uptick in these type of risk alerts because the SEC “has been getting more serious about cybersecurity.” 

Because of the SEC’s increased focus, companies should expect the SEC also to increase their cybersecurity-related enforcement actions, Silvers, who also served as the assistant secretary for cyber policy at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security during the Obama administration, said. The SEC has shown “that it isn’t flying at 30,000 feet on this issue” and has issued risk alerts, enforcement decisions, guidance, commentary and events that companies can rely on to limit their cybersecurity exposure. 

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