So, you think that a corporate cyberattack has nothing to do with you? If so, think again. Indeed, to the extent you own stock or securities, the value of your holdings could be at risk in the event of a cyberattack. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Cybersecurity is an economic issue. See here.
Take, for example, Intel (INTC). In the “Risks” section of its 2009 10-K, the company disclosed in a tersely worded statement that its networks had been the victims of “sophisticated” attacks. Kudos to Intel for making this disclosure, which predated the October 2011 publication of the SEC Guidance addressing public companies’ cyber risks and exposures (discussed here and elsewhere, including in the March 2012 edition of the Advisen Cyber Journal. Please feel free to contact me for details on how to obtain this must-read issue and subscribe. Advisen has done a masterful job, as it does with all of its publications). As will be discussed in my next post, a significant number of public companies still have not complied with their cyber risk and cyber exposure reporting “obligations” under the SEC Guidance.
As to Intel, the subject 10-K listed several noteworthy risks. The most intriguing stated that “We may be subject to intellectual property theft or misuse, which could result in third-party claims and harm our business and results of operations.” Intel’s disclosure continued that “[w]e regularly face attempts by others to gain unauthorized access through the Internet to our information technology systems by, for example, masquerading as authorized users or surreptitious introduction of software….These attempts, which might be the result of industrial or other espionage, or actions by hackers seeking to harm the company, its products, or end users, are sometimes successful.”
The adverse economic impact of a cyber-related disclosure is not theoretical, either. Indeed, in the immediate wake of the News Corp./News of the World cell phone hacking scandal in mid-2011, News Corp’s market cap reportedly fell by over 15%, valued at approximately $7 billion, in less than a week. Not surprisingly, News Corp was sued shortly thereafter in a series of securities fraud class actions, which remain pending.
While cyber risks and exposures may or may not have an impact on a stock’s trading price, their potential impact can not be ignored. Google (GOOG) is another example. As previously discussed here, Google has been the subject of cyberattacks which it claims were precipitated by the Chinese government. The import of this development can not be understated, as it created tensions between the U.S. and Chinese governments and even made it into Intel’s SEC filing. For private citizens, however, perhaps the greatest implication of the Google cyberintrusions is the arguable effect that they had on Google’s price per share. On January 12, 2010, when the intrusion was publicly disclosed, Google shares fell 1.7% to $590.48. By April 25, 2010 Google’s shares were trading at $544.99, another roughly 8% price drop. Can these losses be directly linked to the breach of Google’s security systems? Put differently, can a possible link be dismissed? That’s for shareholders and others to decide.
So, what does this all mean? At a minimum, it suggests that the economic implications of a cyber event can be wide ranging, from the simple cost of fixing a security gap to a major hit to a brands’ reputation (remember News of the World? After 168 years of tremendous success globally, it ceased publishing on July 10, 2011 as a direct result of the hacking scandal), all the way to claims arising from the theft of consumer’s personal and financial information. Such an intrusion into the systems of retailer T.J. Maxx (TJX) lead TJX to settle with regulators, states, consumers and others and set a settlement/remediation reserve of over $100 million.
In the end, it is clear that just as consumers need to be vigilant about monitoring their personal and financial information to protect themselves from identity theft and the like, investors too must regularly track their holdings to protect their portfolios and assets. As to the companies whose information and systems are at risk, the need for both D&O and cyber insurance is patently obvious, and is as important as the protection of their intellectual property, consumer information and other non-public data. Risk management, information protection and insurance go hand in hand. And we’re here to make sure everyone recognizes the correlation.