Survey Finds Corporate Board Communications Pose Security Risks

By Aditi Mukherji, JD on November 19, 2013 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Keeping in step with the mantra that "you are your own worst enemy," a new Thomson Reuters survey reveals that corporate board members present security risks to the company.

The Thomson Reuters annual Board Governance survey -- which gleans its results from more than 125 general counsel and company secretaries across a wide-ranging cross-section of industries and geographies globally -- shows that corporate board communications present genuine security risks.

Here are a few of the survey's main highlights:

  • Board members use unsecure digital distribution channels. More than 75 percent of the surveyed firms said they don't use secure email and almost half send out information unencrypted. When board members fail to do the security two-step, they expose the company's sensitive information to an array of security threats.
  • Board members use unsecure paper distribution channels, too. A major security faux pas, almost half of boards still rely on paper-based board books. Not only is it bad for the environment, but it also makes sensitive information vulnerable to being lost, stolen, or misplaced. In fact, more than 67 percent of respondents aren't sure if their board members even destroy all print copies of board materials in line with their company policies.
  • There are too many board materials. One-quarter of respondents produce more than 100 board books per year. On average, each book is 179 pages long. This means that board members are wading through a sea of confidential information -- 16,010 pages on average! -- every year. That gives companies 16,010 reasons to be concerned about data leaks.
  • There are too many board members. Boards are getting bigger, with 43 percent reporting more than 11 members, up from 29 percent in 2012. As common sense tells us, the bigger the board is, the greater the potential security risk.
  • Board members have unsecure retention processes. Especially problematic, 62 percent of companies said they had heard of board members leaving sensitive information in public places, representing a 12 percent increase from last year. Though in all honesty, is the statistic all that surprising when board members are shuffling around a whopping 16,010 pages?

Moral of the Security Story

The lesson here is that brevity is your security BFF. Condensing board reports and presentations is an excellent start to improving communication security.

Also, jump on the security bandwagon by going paperless. According to the survey, 52 percent of organizations are now using private mobile board portals to securely share their sensitive board information. Save a forest and save money and improve security? Win-win-win!

Above all, fill the e-knowledge gaps and make security a priority. If your board is full of Luddites, arrange for a cybersecurity refresher.

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