Each year, millions of ransomware attacks paralyze computer systems of businesses, medical offices, government agencies and individuals. But they pose a particular dilemma for publicly traded companies, which are regulated by the SEC. Because attacks cost money, affect operations and expose cybersecurity vulnerabilities, they sometimes meet the definition used by the SEC of a “material” event — one that a “reasonable person” would consider important to an investment decision. Material events must be reported in public filings, and failure to do so could spur SEC action or a shareholder lawsuit.
Yet some companies worry that acknowledging a ransomware attack could land them on the front page, alarm investors and drive down their share price. As a result, although many companies cite ransomware in filings as a risk, they often don’t report attacks or describe them in vague terms, according to experts in securities law and cybersecurity.
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