Businesses Ignore Significant Cybersecurity Risks to Proprietary Data

Knowledge assets are critical to any business remaining functional and competitive, yet this data is routinely exposed to the risk of theft and overlooked in cybersecurity risk management. According to a new report from the Ponemon Institute and law firm Kilpatrick Townsend & Stockton, the organizations are increasingly ineffective at safeguarding data like trade secrets, product design, development or pricing, and other proprietary information.

As breach notification laws, regulatory requirements, and reputation considerations draw more focus to cybersecurity surrounding personal data of customers or personnel, businesses are leaving more risk on the table regarding their most valuable assets, and that risk has a notable price tag.

In the past year, the average cost of remediating these attacks was about $5.4 million, and half of respondents estimated the maximum cost would range over $250 million, with seven out of ten placing it over $100 million. What’s more, on average, respondents believe only 35% of the losses resulting from knowledge asset theft would be covered by their current insurance policies.

The primary drivers of these costs, respondents said, were (out of 100 points):

knowledge asset theft costs

Why are so many businesses failing to take action against the risks to knowledge assets?

knowledge asset data theft risk

Among the findings, the report noted:

  • Theft is rampant. Seventy-four percent of respondents say it is likely that their company failed to detect a data breach involving the loss or theft of knowledge assets, and 60% state it is likely one or more pieces of their company’s knowledge assets are now in the hands of a competitor.
  • Companies don’t know what they need to protect, or how to protect it. Only 31% of respondents say their company has a classification system that segments information assets based on value or priority to the organization. Merely 28% rate the ability of their companies to mitigate the loss or theft of knowledge assets by insiders and external attackers as effective. The great majority who rate their programs as not effective cite as the primary reasons a lack of in-house expertise (67%), lack of clear leadership (59%), and lack of collaboration between different job functions (56%).
  • Executives and boards aren’t focused on the issue and its resolution. A data breach involving knowledge assets would impact a company’s ability to continue as a going concern according to 59% of respondents, but 53% replied that senior management is more concerned about a data breach involving credit card information or Social Security numbers than the leakage of knowledge assets. Only 32% of respondents say their companies’ senior management understands the risk caused by unprotected knowledge assets, and 69% believe that senior management does not make the protection of knowledge assets a priority. The board of directors is often even more in the dark. Merely 23% of respondents say the board is made aware of all breaches involving the loss or theft of knowledge assets, and only 37% state that the board requires assurances that knowledge assets are managed and safeguarded appropriately.
  • Careless employees and unchecked cloud providers are key risk areas. The most likely root cause of a data breach involving knowledge assets is the careless employee, but employee access to knowledge assets is not often adequately controlled. Fifty percent of respondents replied that both privileged and ordinary users have access to the company’s knowledge assets. Likewise, 63% of respondents state that their company stores knowledge assets in the cloud, but only 33% say their companies carefully vet the cloud providers storing those assets.

Thanks in part to the lack of action currently, there is plenty businesses can easily do to improve.

“Companies face a serious challenge in the protection of their knowledge assets. The good news is there are steps to take to reduce the risk,” said Dr. Larry Ponemon, chairman and founder of the Ponemon Institute. “First of all, understand the knowledge assets critical to your company and ensure they are secured. Make sure the protection of knowledge assets, especially when sharing with third parties, is an integral part of your security strategy, including incident response plans. To address the employee negligence problem, ensure training programs specifically address employee negligence when handling sensitive and high value data.”

Protect Your Company from Intellectual Property Risks

In intellectual property management, mistakes can be extremely costly, and are, unfortunately, easy for an IP manager to make. The stakes are high: these could cause your company to lose its intellectual property (IP) rights, or worse, may result in competitors obtaining those rights.

Here are the Top 10 IP management slip-ups that can increase these threats to your company:

  • Failure to capture an invention  With the “America Invents Act,” the United States converted to “first to file” from “first to invent.” Unlike the olden days, the first one toCopyright file a new invention—not the first to invent it—gets the rights to the patent. If one of your inventors has a patentable idea and you don’t find out about it, you risk having a competitor file ahead of you. Your company can also be excluded from using the invention, which may be a major setback.
  • Failure to meet statutory deadlines  Once you begin the patent filing process, you must meet strict statutory deadlines to file abroad and respond to communications from the patent offices. These include conversion to non-provisional status, application filing deadlines and national filing deadlines. Miss these dates and your patent rights disappear.
  • Failure to Stay in the Loop  Are there IP related conversations and actions happening in your company that you are not aware of? While you may be diligently tracking your activities, your inventors, attorneys or outside counsel could be taking actions (or not taking actions) that you need to know about. Things can easily fall through the cracks if you are not tracking them or in the loop. This may result in expensive mistakes and potential loss of patent rights.
  • Failure to Accurately Project Costs  There are costs associated with building an IP portfolio, including outside counsel fees, filing fees and maintenance fees. Your IP program can be adversely affected if you cannot accurately project what these fees will be and budget accordingly.
  • Failure to respond to patent trademark office actions on time  During prosecution, your patent applications will receive communications from patent offices. Either you or your outside counsel must respond to these on time. Failure to take timely actions, can lead to expensive penalties and/or loss of rights.
  • Failure to properly disclose material information  In many countries, including the U.S., you are required to file information disclosure statements that include all relevant prior art. These statements need to be consistent across all of your related patent applications. Failure to make proper disclosures can result in the loss of your patent rights.
  • Failure to maintain your patent  In most countries, you must pay regular maintenance fees for issued patents or annuities for pending applications. If you miss making a payment, are delinquent, or if a payment is not properly processed, you can lose your patent rights or may have to pay significant penalties to restore your rights.
  • Failure to enforce license obligations  If you have licensed patents to others, you need to monitor the agreement and track the royalty payments. Failure to do so can result in significant loss of royalty revenue, and unlicensed use of your IP.
  • Failure to align patent portfolio to business needs  Over time, your patent portfolio will grow. At the same time, your company’s business strategy may change. You need to monitor your portfolio to make sure it is aligned with your business needs. Maintaining a portfolio of low-value patents that doesn’t support your business strategy is a bad investment.
  • Failure to account for your IP portfolio  For companies with SEC reporting obligations, it is mandatory to accurately disclose your patent assets. If you don’t have an accurate picture of your actual portfolio, you will encounter costly and embarrassing legal problems.

As the IP manager, you are responsible for seeing that these failures don’t happen. While this is a challenge, it is one that you can meet by working closely with your inventors and outside counsel. You must also be very careful to track events in an IP calendar.

Morpho Hacker Group Targets Intellectual Property

With the highly-publicized rise in cyberbreaches, we have seen hackers break into systems for a variety of reasons: criminal enterprises simply stealing money, thieves gathering Social Security or credit card numbers to sell on the black market, state-sponsored groups taking confidential information, and malicious actors taking passwords or personal data to use to hit more valuable targets. Now, another group of financially-motivated hackers has emerged with a different agenda that may have even riskier implications for businesses.

According to a new report from computer security company Symantec, a group it calls Morpho has attacked multiple multibillion-dollar companies across an array of industries in pursuit of one thing: intellectual property. While it is not entirely clear what they do with this information, they may aim to sell it to competitors or nation states, the firm reports. “The group may be operating as ‘hackers for hire,’ targeting corporations on request,” Symantec reported. “Alternatively, it may select its own targets and either sell stolen information to the highest bidder or use it for insider trading purposes.”

Victimized businesses have spanned the Internet, software, pharmaceutical, legal and commodities fields, and the researchers believe the Morpho group is the same one that breached Facebook, Twitter, Apple and Microsoft in 2013.

Symantec does not believe the group is affiliated with or acting on behalf of any particular country as they have attacked businesses without regard for the nationality of its targets. But, as the New York Times reported, ” the researchers said there were clues that the hackers might be English speakers — their malicious code is written in fluent English — and they named their encryption keys after memes in American pop culture and gaming. Researchers also said the attackers worked during United States working hours, though they conceded that might just be because that is when their targets are most active.”

The researchers have tied Morpho to attacks against 49 different organizations in more than 20 countries, deploying custom hacking tools that are able to break into both Windows and Apple computers, suggesting it has plenty of resources and expertise. The group has been active since at least March 2012, the report said, and their attacks have not only continued to the present day, but have increased in number. “Over time, a picture has emerged of a cybercrime gang systematically targeting large corporations in order to steal confidential data,” Symantec said.

Morpho hacking victims by industry

Morpho hackers have also been exceptionally careful, from preliminary reconnaissance to cleaning up evidence. In some cases, to help best determine the valuable trade secrets they would steal, the group intercepted company emails as well as business databases containing legal and policy documents, financial records, product descriptions and training documents. In one case, they were able to compromise a physical security system that monitors employee and visitor movements in corporate buildings. After getting the data they wanted, they scrubbed their tracks, even making sure the servers they used to orchestrate the attacks were rented using the anonymous digital currency Bitcoin.

In short, the hackers are really good, according to Vikram Thakur, a senior manager of the attack investigations team at Symantec. “Who they are? We don’t know. They are virtually impossible to track,” he said.

U.S. Policymakers Renew Focus on Data Breach Laws

If we have learned any lessons from the last few years, it is that data breaches present a significant business risk to organizations, often resulting in high financial cost and impact on public opinion. According to a recent study, the average cost of a data breach incident is approximately $3.5 million. With reputation management and a complex regulatory landscape as additive organizational concerns, security and risk professionals face the tough task of ensuring their companies successfully manage the aftermath of a data breach.

A crucial aspect to data breach preparedness is having a strong understanding of the legislative and regulatory framework around data breach notification. However, set against a patchwork of 47 existing laws from nearly every U.S. state, risk and compliance professionals are challenged with understanding and communicating rights for their business and customers. The recent mega breaches experienced by several large companies in the United States has resulted in heightened consumer, media and policymaker awareness and concern, making the potential for new requirements and legislation a hot topic.

Currently, legislation that would establish a national data security and breach standard remains undefined. However, there has been a renewed focus from policymakers and support from the Obama administration to adopt a national notification requirement – offering clarity and guidance for organizations following a data breach. While legislation awaits, experts expect continued data breach enforcement from the federal level, such as the FTC, alongside state governments.

Additionally, as more data is being stored in the cloud and shared across international borders, standard data breach notification requirements are also being evaluated and established on a global level. For example, the European Union’s (EU) new data breach requirements for telecommunication operators and internet service providers (ISPs) were implemented in August 2013. Now, these entities are required to notify national data protection authorities within 24 hours of detection of a theft, loss or unauthorized access to customer data, including emails, calling data and IP addresses. Based on that legislation, the EU is now also considering expanding the 24-hour notification requirement be applied to all commercial sectors as part of the larger update of the region’s data protection law.

A federal standard is likely on the horizon, but in the meantime, there are a few recommended steps risk managers should evaluate now as part of their preparedness plan:

  • Understand the current notification requirements and enlist legal counsel. Once the details of a data breach are identified, organizations will need to assess which laws apply to the incident. Identifying the right group of experts, including outside privacy counsel, ahead of time can help risk managers quickly navigate this process. However, be aware that within the United States, certain state laws have consumer notification requirements as short as 30 or 45 days. This means there is no time to waste verifying consumer addresses; writing, printing and mailing notification letters; or setting up a call center and other services for affected individuals. To complicate things further, multiple state laws may apply to a single data breach due to the jurisdiction of the affected individuals, not where the business is located. For more information on notification requirements, Experian has developed a guide with tips on data breach response available for download at
  • Have a practiced response team in place.  A recent report from Ponemon and IBM reaffirms the importance of data breach preparedness. The report found that companies that have a strong security posture are able to reduce the cost of data breaches by as much as $14 per record. Arguably, the strongest part of a data breach response plan is the team that implements it during and after an incident. Risk management professionals should ensure the response team is familiar with security protocols and notification processes in advance. In addition, to be prepared for a data breach at any given point, we recommend practicing the response plan every six months.
  • Offer identity theft protection. Though laws and industry regulations vary regarding if and when an organization needs to notify victims following a data breach, affected consumers have also expressed their expectation that organizations will offer credit monitoring and identity theft protection services in the aftermath of an incident. In fact, 63% of respondents from a recent survey indicated breached companies should be obligated to provide free identity theft protection to affected customers. Organizations that provide fraud monitoring and identity protection are better positioned to improve compliance and maintain consumer’s trust. Policymakers have also made clear as they evaluate data breach legislation that they expect for companies to take steps to further protect consumers from identity theft following a breach.

As legislation for data breaches continue to be shaped, risk managers preparing for their response plans should ensure they partner with legal counsel to understand various notification requirements, across national and international borders. It is also important to remember data breaches cannot be managed solely as a compliance issue, and to take into account consumer needs and expectations. As part of having a well-practiced pre-breach preparedness plan, risk professionals should focus on clear notification and guidance, along with offering identity theft or fraud protection to protect consumers and ultimately maintain their trust following a breach. With these measures in place, regulators will likely recognize that a company is demonstrating established and responsible procedures for managing and responding to a breach.

More information on data breach legislation and resources can be found at the Experian Data Breach Resolution website and the Experian Data Breach Resolution blog.