People Pose Greatest Risk to Retirement Plan Cybersecurity

Employee Benefits News examines legal developments that impact the employee benefits and executive compensation employers provide, including federal and state legislation, rules from federal...

By Sean Forbes

Aug. 24 — Strategies to mitigate damage from cybersecurity hacks have changed little over the past dozen years, while anti-hacking technology and tools to prevent attacks are out of date not long after they’re introduced, witnesses told the ERISA Advisory Council.

From 2004, when the not-for-profit Open Web Application Security Project Foundation released its first 10 Ten list of web application security risks, to 2014, when it released an updated Top 10, seven of the risks remained the same, Tim Oxborough-Powell, practice head of governance, risk and compliance at Tata Consultancy Services in New York, told the council Aug. 24.

Foundation documents show that the risks go by such arcane names as “cross-site scripting” and “broken authentication and session management.”

However, Oxborough-Powell said, the greatest risk is “people, people and people.”

A mere checklist approach to cybersecurity won’t prevent attacks, he said. Instead, an effective information security program must focus on people, and must be incorporated into employees’ regular activities, he said. He said an effective program must be:

  •  clearly articulated and understood;
  •  not too onerous; and
  •  enable people to do the right thing, or else people can’t comply.

The ERISA Advisory Council holds meetings each year to develop recommendations for the Department of Labor on guidance on employee benefit plans. It is focusing this year on lifetime retirement plan participation and plan cybersecurity.


One of the questions regarding cybersecurity with which the council is wrestling is how to maintain security when information is shared between the plan sponsor and its vendors and subvendors.

Kevin Stadmeyer, technical program manager at Google Inc. in San Francisco, recommended a free resource from his company for dealing with outside vendors, called the Vendor Security Assessment Questionnaires.

Rebecca McQuilling, a systems engineer, also at Google, said that data encryption must be a default setting. In addition, contracts must include provisions that require vendors to do their due diligence in maintaining data security, she said.

McQuilling also emphasized that technology that works today won’t work tomorrow. “Security isn’t static. It will change from year to year,” she said. Therefore, constant security audits are needed, she said.

1,400 Assessments

One of the council members, Jeffrey G. Stein, general counsel for the 1199SEIU Funds in New York, asked one of the witnesses, Daniel Nutkis, founder and chief executive officer of the Health Information Trust Alliance (HITRUST), about the overarching concern the council was facing: “Is what we’re doing helpful? Are we headed the right direction?”

Nutkis said the council’s recommendations to the DOL shouldn’t add yet another direction to those already in practice, and that ultimately the solution isn’t technological.

The Chicago-based print company RR Donnelley, for example, had to go through 1,400 different security assessments each year, none of which looked the same, Nutkis said. Taking 1,400 approaches “is counterintuitive and counterproductive” and was a leadership issue, not a technology issue, he said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Sean Forbes in Washington at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Jo-el J. Meyer at

Copyright © 2016 The Bureau of National Affairs, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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