As President Barack Obama studies how the U.S. military should respond to an increasing number of cyber attacks against public and private institutions, general counsel would be wise to examine their own companies' situations.
"The U.S. is under attack, for lack of a better word, from all types of states and organizations," said attorney Joseph DeMarco, who specializes in data security and information theft at Devore & DeMarco in New York.
"The challenge for general counsel is to first understand the magnitude of the threat, the persistence of it, and the fact that it is not only directly against their company, but also indirectly through the company's outside consulting companies, accountants and lawyers," he said Monday.
DeMarco, an ex-assistant U.S. attorney in Manhattan, explained that it's not uncommon for someone targeting a company's intellectual property to steal it from firms that the company consults with, such as its law firms. He calls them "downstream victims."
The attacks, he said, can come from other nations, foreign companies, transactional groups or individuals.
And the number of attacks is growing exponentially. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security has said recently that an unidentified American power station was crippled for weeks by cyber attacks. The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and The Washington Post have also reported attacks early this year.
"What we've seen is a broadening in the types of organizations targeted," said Grady Summers, vice president of Mandiant, a leading data security company that was hired by The Times to deal with its recent breaches.
"Five or six years ago, attacks were common among defense contractors," he explained, "but now they are against a broad range of industries, like oil and gas, high-tech manufacturers, and law firmsespecially law firms.
"And the phenomenon we've seen in the last two years is the attacks on media and entertainment companies," added Summers, the former head of data security at Ernst & Young and General Electric.
Both DeMarco and Summers said general counsel can play a crucial role in protecting a company's data.