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Cloud services 101: An almanac for higher education leaders

07.19.18

Cloud services are becoming more and more omnipresent, and rapidly changing how companies and organizations conduct their day-to-day business.

Many higher education institutions currently utilize cloud services for learning management systems (LMS) and student email systems. Yet there are some common misunderstandings and assumptions about cloud services, especially among higher education administrative leaders who may lack IT knowledge. The following information will provide these leaders with a better understanding of cloud services and how to develop a cloud services strategy.

What are cloud services?

Cloud services are internet-based technology services provided and/or hosted by offsite vendors. Cloud services can include a variety of applications, resources, and services, and are designed to be easily scalable, cost effective, and fully managed by the cloud services vendor.

What are the different types?

Cloud services are generally categorized by what they provide. Today, there are four primary types of cloud services:

Cloud Service Types 

Cloud services can be further categorized by how they are provided:

  1. Private cloud services are dedicated to only one client. Security and control is the biggest value for using a private cloud service.
  2. Public cloud services are shared across multiple clients. Cost effectiveness is the best value of public cloud services because resources are shared among a large number of clients.
  3. Hybrid cloud services are combinations of on-premise software and cloud services. The value of hybrid cloud services is the ability to adopt new cloud services (private or public) slowly while maintaining on-premise services that continue to provide value.

How do cloud services benefit higher education institutions?

Higher education administrative leaders should understand that cloud services provide multiple benefits.
Some examples:

Cloud-Services-for-Higher-Education


What possible problems do cloud services present to higher education institutions?

At the dawn of the cloud era, many of the problems were technical or operational in nature. As cloud services have become more sophisticated, the problems have become more security and business related. Today, higher education institutions have to tackle challenges such as cybersecurity/disaster recovery, data ownership, data governance, data compliance, and integration complexities.

While these problems and questions may be daunting, they can be overcome with strong leadership and best-practice policies, processes, and controls.

How can higher education administrative leaders develop a cloud services strategy?

You should work closely with IT leadership to complete this five-step planning checklist to develop a cloud services strategy: 

1. 

Identify new services to be added or consolidated; build a business case and identify the return on investment (ROI) for moving to the cloud, in order to answer:

• 

What cloud services does your institution already have?

• 

What cloud services does your institution already have?

• 

What services should you consider replacing with cloud services, and why?

• 

How are data decisions being made?

2. 

Identify design, technical, network, and security requirements (e.g., private or public; are there cloud services already in place that can be expanded upon, such as a private cloud service), in order to answer:

• 

Is your IT staff ready to migrate, manage, and support cloud services?

• 

Do your business processes align with using cloud services?

• 

Do cloud service-provided policies align with your institution’s security policies?

• 

Do you have the in-house expertise to integrate cloud services with existing on-premise services?

3. 

Decide where data will be stored; data governance (e.g., on-premise, off-premise data center, cloud), in order to answer:

• 

Who owns the data in the institution’s cloud, and where?

• 

Who is accountable for data decisions?

4. 

Integrate with current infrastructure; ensure cloud strategy easily allows scalability for expansion and additional services, in order to answer:

• 

What integration points will you have between on-premise and cloud applications or services, and can the institution easily implement, manage, and support them?

5. 

Identify business requirements — budget, timing, practices, policies, and controls required for cloud services and compliance, in order to answer:

• 

Will your business model need to change in order to support a different cost model for cloud services (i.e., less capital for equipment purchases every three to five years versus a steady monthly/yearly operating cost model for cloud services)?

• 

Does your institution understand the current state and federal compliance and privacy regulations as they relate to data?

• 

Do you have a contingency plan if its primary cloud services provider goes out of business?

• 

Do your contracts align with institutional, state, and federal guidelines?

Need assistance?

BerryDunn’s higher education team focuses on advising colleges and universities in improving services, reducing costs, and adding value. Our team is well qualified to assist in understanding the cloud “skyscape.” If your institution seeks to maximize the value of cloud services or develop a cloud services strategy, please contact me.

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Read this if you are a CIO, CFO, Provost, or President at a higher education institution.

In my conversations with CIO friends over the past weeks, it is obvious that the COVID-19 pandemic has forced a lot of change for institutions. Information technology is the underlying foundation for supporting much of this change, and as such, IT leaders face a variety of new demands now and into the future. Here are important considerations going forward.

Swift impact to IT and rapid response

The COVID-19 pandemic has had a significant impact on higher education. At the onset of this pandemic, institutions found themselves quickly pivoting to work from home (WFH), moving to remote campus operations, remote instruction within a few weeks, and in some cases, a few days. Most CIOs I spoke with indicated that they were prepared, to some extent, thanks to Cloud services and online class offerings already in place—it was mostly a matter of scaling the services across the entire campus and being prepared for returning students and faculty on the heels of an extended spring break.

Services that were not in place required creative and rapid deployment to meet the new demand. For example, one CIO mentioned the capability to have staff accept calls from home. The need for softphones to accommodate student service and helpdesk calls at staff homes required rapid purchase, deployment, and training.

Most institutions have laptop loan programs in place but not scaled to the size needed during this pandemic. Students who choose to attend college on campus are now forced to attend school from home and may not have the technology they need. The need for laptop loans increased significantly. Some institutions purchased and shipped laptops directly to students’ homes. 

CIO insights about people

CIOs shared seeing positive outcomes with their staff. Almost all of the CIOs I spoke with mentioned how the pandemic has spawned creativity and problem solving across their organizations. In some cases, past staffing challenges were put on hold as managers and staff have stepped up and engaged constructively. Some other positive changes shared by CIOs:

  • Communication has improved—a more intentional exchange, a greater sense of urgency, and problem solving have created opportunities for staff to get engaged during video calls.
  • Teams focusing on high priority initiatives and fewer projects have yielded successful results. 
  • People feel a stronger connection with each other because they are uniting behind a common purpose.

Perhaps this has reduced the noise that most staff seem to hear daily about competing priorities and incoming requests that seem to never end.

Key considerations and a framework for IT leaders 

It is too early to fully understand the impact on IT during this phase of the pandemic. However, we are beginning to see budgetary concerns that will impact all institutions in some way. As campuses work to get their budgets settled, cuts could affect most departments—IT included. In light of the increased demand for technology, cuts could be less than anticipated to help ensure critical services and support are uninterrupted. Other future impacts to IT will likely include:

  • Support for a longer term WFH model and hybrid options
  • Opportunities for greater efficiencies and possible collaborative agreements between institutions to reduce costs
  • Increased budgets for online services, licenses, and technologies
  • Need for remote helpdesk support, library services, and staffing
  • Increased training needs for collaborative and instructional software
  • Increased need for change management to help support and engage staff in the new ways of providing services and support
  • Re-evaluation of organizational structure and roles to right-size and refocus positions in a more virtual environment
  • Security and risk management implications with remote workers
    • Accessibility to systems and classes 

IT leaders should examine these potential changes over the next three to nine months using a phased approach. The diagram below describes two phases of impact and areas of focus for consideration. 

Higher Education IT Leadership Phases

As IT leaders continue to support their institutions through these phases, focusing on meeting the needs of faculty, staff, and students will be key in the success of their institutions. Over time, as IT leaders move from surviving to thriving, they will have opportunities to be strategic and create new ways of supporting teaching and learning. While it remains to be seen what the future holds, change is here. 

How prepared are you to support your institution? 

If we can help you navigate through these phases, have perspective to share, or any questions, please contact us. We’re here to help.

Article
COVID-19: Key considerations for IT leaders in Higher Ed

Editor’s note: If you are a higher education CFO, CIO, CTO or other C-suite leader, this blog is for you.

The Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act (GLBA) has been in the news recently as the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has agreed to extend a deadline for public comment regarding proposed changes to the Safeguards Rule. Here’s what you need to know.

GLBA, also known as the Financial Modernization Act, is a 1999 federal law providing rules to financial institutions for protecting consumer information. Colleges and universities fall under this act because they conduct financial activities (e.g., administration of financial aid, loans, and other financial services).

Under the Safeguards Rule financial Institutions must develop, implement, and maintain a comprehensive information security program that consists of safeguards to handle customer information.

Proposed changes

The FTC is proposing five modifications to the Safeguards Rule. The new act will:

  • Provide more detailed guidance to impacted institutions regarding how to develop and implement specific aspects of an overall information security program.
  • Improve the accountability of an institution’s information security programs.
  • Exempt small business from certain requirements.
  • Expand the definition of “financial institutions” to include entities engaged in activities that the Federal Reserve Board determines to be incidental to financial activities.
  • Propose to include the definition of “financial institutions” and related examples in the rule itself rather than cross-reference them from a related FTC rule (Privacy of Consumer Financial Information Rule).

Potential impacts for your institution

The Federal Register, Volume 84, Number 65, published the notice of proposed changes that once approved by the FTC would add more prescriptive rules that could have significant impact on your institution. For example, these rules would require institutions to:

  1. Expand existing security programs with additional resources.
  2. Produce additional documentation.
  3. Create and implement additional policies and procedures.
  4. Offer various forms of training and education for security personnel.

The proposed rules could require institutions to increase their commitment in time and staffing, and may create hardships for institutions with limited or challenging resources.

Prepare now

While these changes are not final and the FTC is requesting public comment, here are some things you can do to prepare for these potential changes:

  • Evaluate whether your institution is compliant to the current Safeguards Rule.
  • Identify gaps between current status and proposed changes.
  • Perform a risk assessment.
  • Ensure there is an employee designated to lead the information security program.
  • Monitor the FTC site for final Safeguard Rules updates.

In the meantime, reach out to us if you would like to discuss the impact GLBA will have on your institution or if you would like assistance with any of the recommendations above. You can view a comprehensive list of potential changes here.

Source: Federal Trade Commission. Safeguards Rule. Federal Register, Vol. 84, No. 65. FTC.gov. April 4, 2019. https://www.ftc.gov/enforcement/rules/rulemaking-regulatory-reform-proceedings/safeguards-rule

Article
Higher ed: GLBA is the new four-letter word, but it's not as bad as you think

In light of the recent cyberattacks in higher education across the US, more and more institutions are finding themselves no longer immune to these activities. Security by obscurity is no longer an effective approach—all  institutions are potential targets. Colleges and universities must take action to ensure processes and documentation are in place to prepare for and respond appropriately to a potential cybersecurity incident.

What are some examples of incidents that managers need to prepare for?

Examples range from external breaches and insider threats to instances of malfeasance or incompetence. Different types of incidents lead to the same types of results—yet you can’t have a broad view of incidents. Managers should work with their teams to create incident response plans that reflect the threats associated with higher education institutions. A handful of general incident response plans isn’t going to cut it.

Managers need to work with their teams to develop a specific incident response plan for each specific type of incident. Why? Well, think of it this way: Your response to a careless employee should be different from your response to a malicious employee, for a whole host of legal reasons. Incident response is not a cookie-cutter process. In fact, it is quite the opposite. This is one of the reasons I highly suggest security teams include staff members outside of IT. When you’re responding to incidents, you want people who can look at a problem or situation from an external perspective, not just a technical or operational perspective within IT. These team members can help answer questions such as, what does the world see when they look at our institution? What institutional information might be valuable to, or targeted by, malicious actors? You’ll get some valuable fresh perspectives.

How short or long should the typical incident response plan be?

I often see good incident response plans no more than three or four pages in length. However, it is important that incident response plans are task oriented, so that it is clear who does what next. And when people follow an incident response plan, they should physically or digitally check off each activity, then record each activity.

What system or software do you recommend for recording incidents and responses?

There are all types of help desk software you can use, including free and open source software. I recommend using help desk software with workflow capabilities, so your team can assign and track tasks.

Any other tips for developing incident response plans?

First, managers should work with, and solicit feedback from across the academic and administrative areas within the institution when developing incident response plans. If you create these documents in a vacuum, they will be useless.

Second, managers and their teams should take their time and develop the most “solid” incident response plans possible. Don’t rush the process. The effectiveness of your incident response plans will be critical in assessing your institution’s ability to survive a breach. Because of this, you should be measuring your response plans through periodic testing, like conducting tabletop exercises.

Third, keep your students and external stakeholders in mind when developing these plans. You want to make sure external communications are consistent, accurate, and within the legal requirements for your institution. The last thing you want is students and stakeholders receiving conflicting messages about the incident. 

Are there any decent incident response plans in the public domain that managers and their teams can adapt for their own purposes?

Yes. My default reference is the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). NIST has many special publications that describe the incident response process, how to develop a solid plan, and how to test your plan.

Should institutions have dedicated incident response teams?

Definitely. Institutions should identify and staff teams using internal resources. Some institutions may want to consider hiring a reputable third party to act as an incident response team. The key with hiring a third party? Don’t wait until an incident occurs! If you wait, you’re going to panic, and make panic-based decisions. Be proactive and hire a third party on retainer.

That said, institutions should consider hiring a third party on an annual basis to review incident response plans and processes. Why? Because every institution can grow complacent, and complacency kills. A third party can help gauge the strengths and weaknesses of your internal incident response teams, and provide suggestions for general or specific training. A third party can also educate your institution about the latest and greatest cyber threats.

Should managers empower their teams to conduct internal “hackathons” in order to test incident response?

Sure! It’s good practice, and it can be a lot of fun for team members. There are a few caveats. First, don’t call it a hackathon. The word can elicit negative or concerned reactions. Call it “active testing” or “continuous improvement exercises.” These activities allow team members to think creatively, and are opportunities for them to boost their cybersecurity knowledge. Second, be prepared for pushback. Some managers worry if team members gain more cybersecurity skills, then they’ll eventually leave the institution for another, higher-paying job. I think you should be committed to the growth of your team members―it’ll only make your institution more secure.

What are some best practices managers should follow when reporting incidents to their leadership?

Keep the update quick, brief, and to the point. Leave all the technical jargon out, and keep everything in an institutional context. This way leadership can grasp the ramifications of the event and understand what matters. Be prepared to outline how you’re responding and what actions leadership can take to support the incident response team and protect the institution. In the last chapter, I mentioned what I call the General Colin Powell method of reporting, and I suggest using that method when informing leadership. Tell them what you know, what you don’t know, what you think, and what you recommend. Have answers, or at least a plan.

How much institution-wide communication should there be about incidents?

That’s a great question, but a tough one to answer. Transparency is good, but it can also unintentionally lead to further incidents. Do you really want to let your whole institution know about an exploitable weakness? Also, employees can spread information about incidents on social media, which can actually lead to the spread of misinformation. If you are in doubt about whether or not to inform the entire institution about an incident, refer to your Legal Department. In general, institution-wide communication should be direct: We’ve had an incident; these are the facts; this is what you are allowed to say on social media; and this is what you’re not allowed to say on social media.

Another great but tough question: When do you tell the public about an incident? For this type of communication, you’re going to need buy-in from various sources: senior leadership, Legal, HR, and your PR team or external PR partners. You have to make sure the public messaging is consistent. Otherwise, citizens and the media will try to poke holes in your official story. And that can lead to even more issues.

What are the key takeaways for higher education leaders?

Here are key takeaways to help higher education leaders prepare for and respond appropriately to cybersecurity incidents:

  1. Understand your institution’s current cybersecurity environment. 
    Questions to consider: Do you have Chief Information Security Officer (CISO) and/or a dedicated cybersecurity team at your institution? Have you conducted the appropriate audits and assessments to understand your institution’s vulnerabilities and risks?
  2. Ensure you are prepared for cybersecurity incidents. 
    Questions to consider: Do you have a cybersecurity plan with the appropriate response, communication, and recovery plans/processes? Are you practicing your plan by walking through tabletop exercises? Do you have incident response teams?

Higher education continues to face growing threats of cybersecurity attacks – and it’s no longer a matter of if, but when. Leaders can help mitigate the risk to their institutions by proactively planning with incident response plans, communication plans, and table-top exercises. If you need help creating an incident response plan or wish to speak to us regarding preparing for cybersecurity threats, please reach out to us.
 

Article
Cyberattacks in higher education—How prepared are you?

Focus on the people: How higher ed institutions can successfully make an ERP system change

The enterprise resource planning (ERP) system is the heart of an institution’s business, maintaining all aspects of day-to-day operations, from student registration to staff payroll. Many institutions have used the same ERP systems for decades and face challenges to meet the changing demands of staff and students. As new ERP vendors enter the marketplace with new features and functionality, institutions are considering a change. Some things to consider:

  1. Don’t just focus on the technology and make change management an afterthought. Transitioning to a new ERP system takes considerable effort, and has the potential to go horribly wrong if sponsorship, good planning, and communication channels are not in place. The new technology is the easy part of a transition—the primary challenge is often rooted in people’s natural resistance to change.  
  2. Overcoming resistance to change requires a thoughtful and intentional approach that focuses on change at the individual level. Understanding this helps leadership focus their attention and energy to best raise awareness and desire for the change.
  3. One effective tool that provides a good framework for successful change is the Prosci ADKAR® model. This framework has five distinct phases that align with ERP change:

These phases provide an approach for developing activities for change management, preparing leadership to lead and sponsor change and supporting employees through the implementation of the change.

The three essential steps to leveraging this framework:

  1. Perform a baseline assessment to establish an understanding of how ready the organization is for an ERP change
  2. Provide sponsorship, training, and communication to drive employee adoption
  3. Prepare and support activities to implement, celebrate, and sustain participation throughout the ERP transition

Following this approach with a change management framework such as the Prosci ADKAR® model can help an organization prepare, guide, and adopt ERP change more easily and successfully. 

If you’re considering a change, but need to prepare your institution for a healthy ERP transition using change management, chart yourself on this ADKAR framework—what is your organization’s change readiness? Do you have appropriate buy-in? What problems will you face?

You now know that this framework can help your changes stick, and have an idea of where you might face resistance. We’re certified Prosci ADKAR® practitioners and have experience guiding Higher Ed leaders like you through these steps. Get in touch—we’re happy to help and have the experience and training to back it up. Please contact the team with any questions you may have.

1Prosci ADKAR®from http://www.prosci.com

Article
Perspectives of an Ex-CIO

On November 8, 2022, Massachusetts voters approved a constitutional amendment to alter the state’s flat 5% income tax to add a 4% surtax on annual income exceeding $1 million. The so-called “millionaires tax,” also referred to as the “Fair Share Amendment,” is effective for tax years beginning on or after Jan. 1, 2023. The annual income level subject to the surtax would be adjusted yearly to reflect increases in the cost of living.

This measure is expected to bring in revenue of between $1.2 and $2 billion annually. The proceeds from the increased tax collections will support state budgets in the areas of education, roads, bridges, and public transportation. The measure passed with 52% voter support and is the sixth attempt to change the state’s flat income tax rate since 1962. This amendment is expected to affect about 0.6% of the state’s population, or about 20,000 taxpayers.

If you expect your income to exceed $1 million in 2023 and have questions regarding the recent legislation, please contact a member of our state and local tax team.

Article
Massachusetts voters pass "Millionaires tax"

Read this if you are responsible for cybersecurity or are a member of a board of directors.

The board’s role in the oversight of organizational risk is increasingly complicated by cybersecurity concerns. Cybersecurity risk is pervasive and will affect companies in a variety of ways. The responsibility for detailed cyber risk oversight within the board should be well documented and communicated, and may often touch various committees across the board, including but not limited to risk, audit, and compliance. With the increasing complexity surrounding cybersecurity, it is also important for the board to evaluate existing experience and skills, identify gaps, and address those gaps through succession planning or leveraging advisors.

Additionally, all directors need to maintain continual knowledge about evolving cyber issues and management’s plans for allocating resources with respect to the preparedness in responding to cyber risks. Such knowledge helps boards assess the priority-driven and investment decisions put forth by management needed in critical areas.

Here are some critical questions that boards and management should be considering with respect to mitigating cyber security risk for their organizations. They may be useful as a starting point for boards to use in their discussions and as a guide when looking at their oversight of management’s plans for addressing potential cyber risks.

General

  • What is the threat profile and risk tolerance of our organization based on our business model and the type of data our organization holds?
  • Is the cyber risk management plan documented, including the identification, protection, and disposal of data?
  • Has the cyber risk management plan been tested?
  • Does our organization’s cybersecurity strategy align with our threat profile and risk tolerance?
  • Is our cybersecurity risk viewed as an enterprise-wide issue and incorporated into our overall risk identification, management, and mitigation process?
  • What percentage of our IT budget is dedicated to cybersecurity?
  • Does that allocation conform to industry standards?
  • Is it adequate based on our threat profile?
  • What are stakeholder demands and priorities for cybersecurity? Data privacy? Data governance? What interactions has the company or board had with shareholders regarding cybersecurity?
  • What is the interaction model between senior management and the board for communications regarding cybersecurity?
  • Has the regulatory focus on the board’s cybersecurity responsibility been increasing? If so, what is driving that focus?

Board cybersecurity oversight

  • How is oversight of cybersecurity structured (committee vs. full board) and why? Is this structure well documented in the appropriate governance charters?
  • Is cybersecurity an area considered and reported as a director competency? If so, have skill/experience gaps been identified together with plans to resolve those gaps?
  • Is there a cybersecurity expert on the board?

Overall cybersecurity strategy

  • Does the board play an active part in determining an organization’s cybersecurity strategy?
  • What are the key elements of a good cybersecurity strategy?
  • Is the organization’s cybersecurity preparedness receiving the appropriate level of time and attention from management and the board (or appropriate board committee)?
  • How do management and the board (or appropriate board committee) make this process part of the organization’s enterprise-wide governance framework?
  • How do management and the board (or appropriate board committee) support improvements to the organization’s process for conducting a cybersecurity assessment?

Risk assessment: risk profile

  • What are the potential cyber threats to the organization?
  • Who is responsible for management oversight of cyber risk?
  • Has a formal cyber assessment been performed? Does it need to be updated?
  • Do management and the board understand the organization’s vulnerabilities and how it may be targeted for cyber-attacks?
  • What do the results of the cybersecurity assessment mean to the organization as it looks at its overall risk profile?
  • Is management regularly updating the organization’s inherent risk profile to reflect changes in activities, services, and products?

Risk assessment: cyber maturity oversight

  • Who is accountable for assessing, managing, and monitoring the risks posed by changes to the business strategy or technology and are those individuals empowered to carry out those responsibilities?
  • Is there someone dedicated full-time to our cybersecurity mission and function, such as a Chief Information Security Officer (CISO)?
  • Is our cybersecurity function properly aligned within the organization? (Aligning the CISO under the CIO may not always be the best model as it may present a conflict. Many organizations align this function under the risk, compliance, audit, or legal functions, while others with a direct or “dotted line” reporting to the CEO.)
  • Do the inherent risk profile and cybersecurity maturity levels meet risk management expectations from management, the board, and shareholders? If there is misalignment, what are the proposed plans to bring them into alignment?

 Cybersecurity controls

  • Do the organization’s policies and procedures demonstrate management’s commitment to sustaining appropriate cybersecurity maturity levels?
  • What is the ongoing practice for gathering, monitoring, analyzing, and reporting risks?
  • How effective are the organization’s risk management activities and controls identified in the assessment?
  • Are there more efficient or effective means for achieving or improving the organization’s risk management and control objectives?
  • Are there controls in place to ensure adequate, accurate and timely reporting of cybersecurity related content?
  • How does the company remain apprised of laws and regulations and ensure compliance?
  • What cloud services does our organization use and how risky are they?
  • How are we protecting sensitive data?

Threat intelligence and collaboration

  • What is the process for gathering and validating inherent risk profile and cybersecurity maturity information?
  • Does our organization share threat intelligence with law enforcement?
  • What third parties does the organization rely on to support critical activities and does the organization regularly audit their level of access?
  • What is the process to oversee third parties and understand their inherent risks and cybersecurity maturity?

Cybersecurity metrics

  • Have we defined appropriate cybersecurity metrics, the format, and who should be reporting to the board?
  • How regularly should a board obtain IT metric information?
  • Is the information meaningful in a way that invokes a reaction and provides a clear understanding of the level of risk willing to be accepted, transferred, or mitigated?
  • How is the board actively monitoring progress or lack of progress and holding management accountable?

Cyber incident management and resilience

  • How does management validate the type and volume of cyber-attacks?
  • Does the organization have a comprehensive cyber incident response and recovery plan? Does it involve all key stakeholders—both internal and external? Does it include a business disaster recovery communication process?
  • How does an incident response and recovery plan fit into the overall cybersecurity strategy?
  • Is the board’s response role clearly defined?
  • Is the cyber incident response reviewed and rehearsed at least annually? Do rehearsals include cyber incident exercises?
  • Is there a culture of cyber awareness and reporting at all levels of the company?
  • Is the company adequately insured and is coverage reviewed at least annually?

Cybersecurity education

  • How does the board remain current on cybersecurity developments in the market and the regulatory environment?
  • Currently, how does the board evaluate directors' knowledge of the current cyber environment and cybersecurity issues impacting their organizations?
  • Do boards currently have the skill sets necessary to adequately oversee cybersecurity? How is the board identifying and evaluating the necessary director skills and experience in this area?
  • Are directors provided with educational opportunities in this area?
  • Is regular cybersecurity education provided to the entire organization?

Cybersecurity disclosure

  • Has oversight of cybersecurity reporting been defined for management and the board?
  • Are company policies and procedures to identify and manage cybersecurity risk, management’s role in implementing cybersecurity policies and procedures, board of directors’ cybersecurity expertise and its oversight of cybersecurity risk, being included within the financial statement and proxy disclosures?
  • Does the company have a mechanism for timely reporting of material cybersecurity incidents?
  • Have updates about previously reported material cybersecurity threats and incidents been included in the financial statements?

If you have any questions about cybersecurity programs, communicating with your board about cybersecurity, or have a specific question about your company or organization, please contact our IT security experts. We're here to help. 

Article
Board oversight of cybersecurity: Questions to ask

Thanks to a little-known law, eligible Massachusetts taxpayers will receive a tax credit in the form of a refund this fall—just in time for holiday shopping. Chapter 62F of the Massachusetts General Laws, a voter passed initiative from 1986, states that if state tax revenue collections exceed a cap tied to wage and salary growth, the surplus must be returned to the taxpayers. This tax credit was only triggered once before – 35 years ago.

According to the Mass.gov website, in Fiscal Year 2022, state tax revenues exceeded the cap by $2.941 billion—the sum of which will be returned to taxpayers by check or direct deposit in the coming months.

Governor Baker stated that a preliminary estimate of the refunds will be approximately 13% of the taxpayer’s personal income tax liability in 2021, though they will update that estimate in late October, once all 2021 tax returns have been filed.

More details on the tax refund:

  • Taxpayers, both resident and non-resident, who have filed a 2021 state tax return on or before September 15, 2023, are eligible for the refund.
  • The expected time frame for the issuance of refunds is expected to begin November 2022.
  • Individual refunds may be reduced by refund intercepts, such as unpaid child support or unpaid tax liability.
  • Massachusetts taxpayers can use this online refund estimator to calculate their estimated refund using information from their 2021 tax returns.

If you have questions, please contact a member of our state and local tax team.

Article
Chapter 62F law to give Massachusetts taxpayers a bonus refund

Read this if you are responsible for cybersecurity at your organization.

Cybersecurity threats aren’t just increasing in number—they’re also becoming more dangerous and expensive. Cyberattacks affect organizations around the globe, but the most expensive attacks occur in the US, where the average cost of a data breach is $9.44 million, according to IBM’s 2022 Cost of a Data Breach Report. The same report shows that the cost of a breach is $10.10 million in the healthcare industry, $5.97 million in the financial industry, $5.01 million in the pharmaceuticals industry, and $4.97 million in the technology industry.

Cyber threat actors are a serious danger to your company, and your customers, stakeholders, and shareholders know this. They expect you to be prepared to defend against and manage cybersecurity threats. How can you demonstrate your cybersecurity controls are up to par? By obtaining a SOC for cybersecurity report.

What is a SOC for cybersecurity report?

It provides an independent assessment of an organization’s cybersecurity risk management program. Specifically, it determines how effectively the organization’s internal controls monitor, prevent, and address cybersecurity threats.

What’s included in a SOC for cybersecurity report?

The report is made up of three key components:

  1. Management’s description of their cybersecurity risk management program, aligned with a control framework (more on that below) and 19 description criteria laid out by the AICPA.
  2. Management’s assertion that controls are effective to achieve cybersecurity objectives.
  3. Service auditor’s opinion on both management’s description and management’s assertion.

Why should you consider a SOC for cybersecurity report?

A SOC for cybersecurity report offers several important benefits for your organization, which include:

  • Align with evolving regulatory requirements. The cybersecurity regulatory environment is constantly evolving. In particular, the SEC’s cybersecurity guidelines are becoming stricter over time. A SOC for cybersecurity report can demonstrate you’re aligned with these guidelines. If you’re a public company or are considering going public in the future, you need to be prepared to meet not just the SEC’s guidelines of today, but their evolved guidelines in the future.
  • Keep your board of directors informed. Your board is responsible for ensuring the business is effectively addressing and mitigating risks—and that includes cyber risk. A SOC for cybersecurity report offers your board a clear and practical illustration of your organization’s cybersecurity risk management controls.
  • Attract and retain more customers. It’s becoming increasingly common for companies to require that their vendors have a SOC for cybersecurity report. Even for companies that don’t require such a report, it’s important to know their vendors are keeping their data safe. Having this report differentiates you from vendors who have not prepared one.
  • Improve your cybersecurity posture. A SOC for cybersecurity report can identify current gaps in your cybersecurity risk management program. Once you’ve addressed these gaps, you can show your customers, stakeholders, and shareholders that you’re continuously improving and evolving your cybersecurity risk management approach.

How do I prepare for my SOC for cybersecurity assessment?

There are several steps you should take to prepare for your assessment.

  1. Choose your control framework. You have several options, including the NIST Cybersecurity Framework, ISO 27002, and the Secure Controls Framework (SCF). There are multiple online resources to help you choose the framework that’s right for your organization.
  2. Determine who your key internal stakeholders are for your cybersecurity risk management program. You’ll need to select a point person to be responsible for ensuring the independent services auditor has all the documentation they need to complete their assessment and act as liaison across internal and external stakeholders.
  3. Collect all cybersecurity-related documentation in one location. Make sure you have an organizational system that makes sense to your point person so it’s easy for them to pull the appropriate materials to give to the independent services auditor.
  4. Conduct a readiness assessment. You can work with an independent services auditor to conduct such an assessment which will identify gaps you can address before performing the attestation.
  5. Select an independent services auditor to perform the attestation. SOC for cybersecurity services are provided by independent CPAs approved by the AICPA. Ideally, you’ll want to select a firm that is experienced in your industry, has a diverse and robust team of cybersecurity professionals, and is accessible when and where you need them.

As always, if you have questions about your specific situation or would like more information about SOC for cybersecurity services, please contact our IT security experts. We’re here to help.

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Yes, you need a SOC for cybersecurity report—here's why

Read this if you are a not-for-profit organization in New Hampshire.

The New Hampshire Legislature has enacted a law that increases the revenue, gains, and support threshold to $2,000,000. This change applies to all charitable organizations with a fiscal year ending after August 6, 2022.

Under the old law, charitable organizations with revenue, gains, and other support totaling $1,000,000 or more were required to file audited financial statements prepared in accordance with Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP) along with their Annual Reports and Forms 990.

Understand the requirements and revised audit threshold

Charitable organizations with revenue, gains, and other support of $2,000,000 or more will now be required to file with the Charitable Trusts Unit audited financial statements, along with their Form 990 and annual report. 

Charitable organizations with revenue, gains, and other support between $500,000 and $1,999,999 will be required to submit, with their Form 990 and annual report, a set of financial statements prepared in accordance with GAAP that may or may not be prepared by a certified public accountant.

Please note: the financial statement requirements outlined above do not pertain to private foundations.

Access the new forms

The New Hampshire Attorney General recently adopted new rules applicable to all charitable trusts, including charitable organizations and professional fundraisers. These changes include the adoption of new paper and online forms.

Effective October 7, 2022, the Charitable Trusts Unit of the New Hampshire Attorney General’s office can only accept forms submitted electronically through its website or paper forms with the date “September 2022.”

The acceptable forms are available here. Previous versions of these forms will no longer be accepted. Please contact our not-for-profit tax team if you have any questions about your specific situation. We’re here to help.

Article
Major changes to 2022 Charitable Trusts Unit filings: new rules now in effect