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Corporate Boards Vulnerable to Hacking and Information Theft, Says Thomson Reuters Survey

Most major corporations surveyed have significant security gaps that leave sensitive board-level information open to information theft and hacking. Those are among the findings of a new survey of board members of UK and global corporations conducted by Thomson Reuters Governance, Risk & Compliance.

The findings are particularly noteworthy in light of recent news stories about the handling of board communications involving executive succession decisions at companies including Yahoo and Apple.

The survey found that information provided to members of corporate boards of directors is often in unencrypted email accounts and computers, or otherwise provided in forms that are easily lost, misplaced or stolen. The Thomson Reuters Governance, Risk & Compliance survey polled general counsel and board members at leading global corporations across a wide variety of industries.

Most corporations surveyed have one or more of the following potential security issues involving information provided to board members:

85% Unencrypted board communications

79% Board documents stored on personal computers at home or work

75% Board documents stored on personal mobile devices (e.g., iPad, laptop, smartphone, etc.)

73% Documents sent to board members via personal, non-commercial email addresses

71% Board documents accessible via wi-fi or unsecured networks

10% Have reported computer, mobile devices, or sensitive company documents lost, stolen or left in public places

Another vulnerability is in the area of legal discovery, as most corporations are not accounting for all of the computing devices that board members are using to access and store board documents. The discovery process would then require a canvassing of computers, files and other data storage maintained by board members at their homes or businesses.

“Communications and information handling with board members represents a weak link in the chain of corporate information security,” said David Craig, president, Thomson Reuters Governance, Risk & Compliance. “Boards of directors handle some of their companies’ most critical and sensitive information, including business strategies, discussion of executive hiring and compensation, legal issues, internal investigations and more.

“While most corporations take extraordinary measures to protect information shared with executives and employees, board members – often being outside directors – operate largely outside of a corporation’s secure computer networks and many of their strict internal security policies. The survey found that information given to the board is treated with inadequate levels of care and security with alarming frequency, placing information at risk of loss, theft and exposure.

“In addition, because of the increasingly global nature of boards,” continued Craig, “members often have to travel considerable distances to attend board meetings and functions, providing numerous opportunities for papers, briefcases, laptops and mobile devices to be physically lost, stolen or exposed to hazards such as hackers and unsecured networks.”

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