This blog is the second part of the discussion of security in mergers and acquisitions (M&A). I suggest to read Part 1 first, as I’m going to build on it and talk about what happens after the deal is finally signed.
Ok, it’s time to put that champagne glass down. I have bad news: closing the deal was the easy part. Now the hard work begins.
The purpose of the integration phase is to create value. More bad news: 83% of the M&A deals did not boost the shareholder value (according to KPMG global research report) and total average returns on M&A are negative (A.T. Kearney research).
All too often the root cause of these failures lies in poor integration.
There are ample opportunities to start losing the value right at the start during the handover between the deal and integration teams.
To alleviate this, I suggest identifying key resources and preparing implementation plans early in the process. Just like having an overall acquisition strategy and plan precedes the negotiation and due diligence phases, having an approach to integration is key to success. Deliverables, due dates, milestones, information flows are all need to be defined in advance. And cyber security plays a big role here.
A newly acquired company is a prime target for cyber criminals due to the magnitude of change it’s going through during the M&A process. Lack of governance, employee turnover, security vulnerabilities and many other factors can contribute to embarrassing security breaches that affect the reputation of the combined entity.
Key cyber security risks to consider:
- Regulatory compliance liabilities and impact (e.g. GDPR fines)
- Theft of intellectual property (data leaks, key employees leave with all the secrets, etc.)
- Reputational damage (unwanted media attention due to data leaks)
The focus of cyber security post-deal is on protecting the value from internal and external threats, enabling secure integration, achieving long-term security and minimising cultural impact.
This can be attained in the following ways:
- Supporting the project team deployment (security education, secured laptops, secure remote connection, encryption, etc.)
- Identifying and prioritising key assets, systems, people and processes
- Assessing the security of these assets (a carefully scoped pentest might be a good idea)
- Ensuring confidentiality, integrity and availability of these assets (backups, antivirus, firewalls, patches, etc.)
- Establishing and controlling access
- Supporting the rationalisation of normalisation of processes
- Developing an approach to cyber risk management (including third-party risk)
- Rolling out security training
- Supporting secure migration of applications and data
- Supporting with incident management
- Supporting with achieving compliance with relevant laws and regulations
- Setting up a security monitoring capability of the merged entity
- Establishing governance
- Developing integrated security strategy and roadmap
Different cultures, attitudes to security and varying control frameworks are among many challenges to consider. Controls are typically relaxed to allow for the integration to go faster. This is where you need to be on a look out for increased threat levels.
To address these effectively, it’s a good idea to split your efforts in two stages: interim and long-term integration.
From the cyber security perspective, during the interim phase, the aim is to assess cyber maturity across the acquired entity rather than come up with a permanent solution.
High-risk areas should be addressed first by establishing interim controls. Long-term integration efforts should be initiated in parallel, starting with development of a security strategy, governance and roadmap.
Proportionality and risk-based approach is key here when integrating the acquired company into your governance structure and control framework. Focus on what matters most and prioritise security controls to protect the value and avoid backlash.
Don’t forget that people would need to still be able to carry out their duties with minimal disruption, but it’s a good idea to establish who needs access to what and why.
Some things can be outside of your control, like losing key employees after deal completion due to inadequate incentive structure. While it might not be your job to design the right retention mechanisms, it’s your responsibility to protect intellectual property, as mentioned above.
Above all, cyber security efforts during the integration process should be joined up with other functions and stakeholder groups. Work closely with the Legal team to minimise potential impact of compliance-related risks, engage Procurement for third-party risk management and align with the executive team to establish the right security culture.