Why Contract Management is the Key to Cyber Security

Cyber security

For the average person, the mention of cyber-threats or cyber security might conjure images of glossy Hollywood thrillers, featuring espionage and the fragile nature of global political systems. In business, however, we have no such luxury, because threats to cyber security constitute a clear and present danger to the integrity of our commercial enterprise. This is the reality in which we operate.

Though technological advances have enabled us to make continued improvements to data security, criminal enterprise advances in parallel to this, so it is vital to avoid the complacency that may accompany the installation of the latest anti-virus software. Moreover, threats to cyber security do not come solely from external, criminal elements. Security breaches can happen all too easily, as a result of simple human error – particularly when information is being exchanged through email.

Understanding your vulnerabilities and their financial implications

When it comes to cyber security, there are three, incontrovertible truths:

  1. All data is valuable.
  2. Every business and every industry is a potential target for cyber attack.
  3. Data breaches can be caused, accidentally, by employees.

These truths demonstrate that cyber security should be a high priority for every organisation. As businesses of all sizes and industry types increase their use of digital data, every business is vulnerable to data breaches, because all data is valuable. Everything from tax information, employment records, point of sale data, and contract documentation is of potential benefit to other parties.

Furthermore, cyber attacks reported over the past decade have proven that such incidents can have a significant impact on stock price, as well as causing lasting reputational damage. These two issues make clear that the consequences of cyber security incidents are directly linked to your bottom line, with the financial damage caused to your business potentially running into the millions. In addition to falls in share prices and a loss of consumer confidence, such data breaches can involve commercially sensitive information that leads to a loss of important intellectual property – all of which is of high value, due to its potential for future increases to revenue. There is also the very likely consequence of costly legal actions, as other parties impacted by the data breach in question seek compensation and restitution for losses and damage incurred.

But, it is not just data generated internally that could be subject to a data breach. That is to say, cyber security incidents involving your data can happen outside of your organisation and, therefore, outside of your control. Your contractual agreements with other parties – including those throughout your supply chain - are perhaps your biggest vulnerability, because you are as reliant upon the other party for their diligence and vigilance in data protection, as you are upon the execution of your own policies and procedures. These liability issues in particular mean that cyber security should be an important consideration in any partnership or contractual agreement.

Making Contract Management a key part of your defensive strategy

Whatever your business, your contract portfolio is your data goldmine. When its power is harnessed correctly, it can generate new sales leads, and help you to make significant savings – all improving your bottom line. So, if the data it contains can provide such benefits to your own organization, it is clearly among your most valuable assets. This makes it a target for theft, and the area of your enterprise that most needs protection from accidental data breaches.

While some data breaches are outside of your control because they stem from other parties, it is possible to take steps within your own organization – and, specifically, within your contract portfolio – to increase your data defence and protection across the board, mitigate risk, and limit potential damage. In order to make Contract Management a key part of your strategy in defending against breaches in cyber security, commercial organizations benefit from the adoption of a three-point policy that is structured around ‘three Rs’: Readiness, Responsibility & Accountability, and Recovery & Review.

Readiness

It is imperative that you make your organization ready; that you be prepared for the inevitability of a cyber security incident. This requires going above and beyond simply meeting industry standards of data protection. It requires a pro-active approach, forward thinking, and the agreement of an Incident Response Plan. The very best way to achieve this state of readiness is by consolidating comprehensive knowledge of the content of your contract portfolio.

This is necessary because, in the event of a cyber attack or data breach, your response and actions in the immediate aftermath must be dictated and informed by any contractual language within your portfolio that pertains to data protection and cyber security. Likewise, if the incident has occurred within the business structure of another party with which you hold a contract, your expectations of their remedial actions and responses are dictated and informed by the same. This is the most basic part of readiness for your organisation.

Once you know the content of your contract portfolio, you can put that knowledge to work to bolster your cyber security provision. Firstly, you can identify the types of data that are particularly vulnerable to misappropriation, either by theft or by accidental data breaches by employees. For the former, steps can be taken to tighten restrictions of access, along with the standardization of clauses. For the latter, remedial action can be taken in the form of additional training or an adjustment of systems or workflow.

Responsibility & Accountability

The contractual language found in your portfolio is a key element in the management of cyber security risk, and therefore in your efforts to ensure responsibility and accountability. A comprehensive review of your contract clauses will enable a thorough assessment of risk and potential exposure in the event of a data breach – either internally, or within any part of the supply chain. This risk assessment should be completed from both a technical and contractual perspective.

The knowledge gained from this process further enhances readiness, but also allows your organization to clearly define the obligations of all parties in the event of a cyber security incident. You can assess the clauses and terms already in place, and ensure that they include clear statements about how data will be handled in the normal course of business, how long it is stored, and what happens to it once the contract is terminated. Where these terms and clauses are not included, remedial action can be taken. In the event of a cyber security incident, this information will be vital for the quick restoration of both commercial operations and the overall reputation of your business – both of which improve the long-term prospects for financial recovery and help secure the future of your enterprise.

Recovery & Review

Cyber security incidents can impact even the most prepared organization because, as we have seen, the breach does not need to occur within your own business to have a detrimental effect. This means a recovery plan is a vital part of your cyber security measures and incident response.

An important part of the overall recovery process is the speed at which you react to an incident. The quicker action is undertaken, the quicker normality can resume. The language curated within your contract portfolio applies here, as it should, by this stage, provide a comprehensive framework of obligations and responsibilities pertaining to each affected client and business area. A swift response will also help repair reputational damage, consumer confidence, and, ultimately, share prices.

Once your immediate incident response process is in motion – including all necessary forensic investigations and the removal of affected data – it is time to undertake a thorough review, in order to determine the lessons learned, and agree on a pathway to improvement of protections. Once again, your contract portfolio plays an important role here, because it provides a documented overview of the entirety of your commercial relationships.

Contract Management Software as a Cyber Security Solution

If your contract portfolio is your data goldmine, and the majority of cyber security measures involve wide-scale data mining of the same, then it is clear that Contract Management Software is an essential cyber security solution. This is because the very best Contract Management Software packages include features that can be used to deliver precisely the results needed to bolster your defence against criminal cyber attacks, and against the effects of data breaches within your supply chain.

  • A centralized repository – Having your entire contract portfolio centralized with a cloud-based software package enables you to search for specific terms and clauses pertaining to cyber security and data breaches. This informs and shapes your response to any cyber security incident, and also provides the opportunity to tighten up and standardize language where necessary, to provide greater protection going forward.
  • Data encryption – Ensuring that all transferred data is encrypted provides the very best protection and privacy for your data. This is particularly important in terms of compliance with industry standards, with contractual terms, and with your own corporate governance.
  • Permission-based access control – While the cloud-based approach of Contract Management Software provides the convenience of secure worldwide access through any browser on an internet-enabled or mobile device, the permission-based access control feature provides the additional security of log-in restrictions. This means that access is only granted once permission is given by authorized personnel, and all access and activity within the software is tracked, documented, and auditable.
  • Customizable reporting – The most powerful tool in the Contract Management Software package is the feature that enables the generation of customizable reports. As part of your readiness processes, this means you can swiftly identify vulnerable data and language pertaining to cyber security and data breaches, by running a report specifying those terms. You can undertake risk management exercises with ease, and implement remedial actions where necessary. You can also standardize language and protections throughout your contract portfolio while maintaining a clear and detailed record of revision histories.

All of these features, along with being valuable parts of your cyber security defences, use a high degree of automation - meaning that the task of protecting your business consumes far fewer resources than it would first appear. Contract Management Software packages are designed with the optimization of workflows in mind, and streamlining is the goal. Automating these search and identification processes shortens the timeframe required, and frees up personnel to focus on the equally important decision-making and implementation phase of the effort. Moreover, by reducing the need for staff to be handling data, the risk of accidental data breaches is significantly reduced.

Best for you, your supply chain, and your customers

In today’s globalized world, commercial organizations are more connected to their suppliers, customers, and competitors than ever. It is increasingly the case that no business exists in a vacuum. Your contract portfolio is the nexus; the hub through which all of your business and consumer relations flow. It’s the part of your organization that connects most tightly with the outside world and makes your enterprise a part of a larger network – with each part of that network represented by a legal agreement containing the most valuable asset of all: data.

While your contract portfolio has the greatest potential for strength in your business, it is also the greatest weakness, by virtue of those outside connections. This is why the Right Contract Management Software package is the best cyber security solution for you, your supply chain, and your customers. In terms of cyber security, software such as that designed by Symfact is an armory with which you can better secure that area of weakness, so it can remain functioning as a productive goldmine for the benefit of all concerned. Taking the step of deploying the features included with this digital, centralized contract repository sends a clear sign to all parties that the protection of data is your highest priority. This breeds confidence which, in turn, breeds business.

Call Symfact today to book your Contract Management Software demonstration, and take the next step in cyber security and data protection.