There are many posts on the NACD Board Leaders’ Blog discussing cybersecurity, but all of them deal with directors’ responsibilities toward the organizations where they are board members. In fact, corporate directors themselves may be targets for hacktivists or cybercriminals and need to make sure they have adequate protection. This protection should include both home and professional office.
Directors obviously will have access to sensitive insider information that many unauthorized parties would like get access to. Many directors will also be targets as high net worth individuals. Cyber criminals always target the weakest link, and as corporate information security improves, they increasingly will target the home networks of key executives and directors.
Breaches such as the one that occurred in the summer of 2017 at Equifax have put so much personal information into the hands of criminals that individuals increasingly will become targets. Directors represent a perfect demographic cross section to be attacked. Attack vectors may include phishing, ransomware, and social media.
Earlier this year, an employee of the National Security Agency was in the news as the hacker apparently stole government secrets from the comfort of his own home network. Directors with access to confidential strategic or financial information should make sure their home networks are protected above and beyond the usual consumer grade defenses. Another attack path may be through tools and services used by directors. In 2010 attacks were reported against a prominent meeting portal for corporate boards. It is not clear if any sensitive information was stolen at that time.
What more should directors do?
First, make sure your home network is built to corporate standards. You need a commercial firewall, not just a consumer router. Most critically, any devices—especially firewalls and routers—should be set to auto-update their security firmware. Auto-update is now included in the Windows 10 operating system, in most smart phones, and in many home network devices, but not in devices more than a few years old. Anything you put on your network will be found to have vulnerabilities, so this software and firmware update feature is critical to keep hackers out.
Password strength and protection represent a second critical area. Many breaches result from theft of user credentials such as username and password. You should use two-factor authentication to log in to sites with your financial or personal information. Two-factor verification utilizes a second security barrier to verify with the application or website that the person logging in is, in fact, you. For instance, applications for your smart phone such as Google Authenticator and Duo Security generate one-time tokens that serve as a second factor. More familiar is the text messaging that many sites still use to send one time codes to users. This process has been deprecated by the Federal government because of potential eavesdropping attacks, so use the dedicated security apps, if possible. Still other financial sites do not yet have any two-factor authentication available. For these, make sure to use strong passwords that contain at least 12 characters, and that preferably can be pronounced. Such complex passwords should be managed using password vaults like LastPass or KeyPass.
The last factor to consider is encryption. Never store any sensitive data online without encrypting it and protecting it using a password known only to you. It is true that collaboration sites like Dropbox do encrypt the data saved there, but the companies still have the encryption keys and can view the data. These keys can be hacked or stolen by a disgruntled employee. That level of encryption is fine for 99 percent of the information you store online. But for the other, essential 1 percent of information—especially personal or corporate sensitive material—only you should have the encryption key. Applications like Boxcryptor integrate with Dropbox and enable you to further protect your information.
These three security precautions will help you keep your personal and professional information secure. Since threats and vulnerabilities are constantly changing, you should keep up to date using the NACD Cyber-Risk Resource Center and other sources of information on this topic. Also consider attending the NACD Global Cyber Forum in Geneva, Switzerland, April 17–18, 2018. You’ll hear from leading international directors, executives, and security professionals on how to protect sensitive corporate information.
Frederick Scholl is president of Monarch Information Networks, and is adjunct professor of computer science at Lipscomb University in Nashville, TN. All thoughts expressed here are his own.