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Protecting Your Event Against Cyber Attacks

How the industry is protecting itself against the threat you can't see.

While terrorism and mass shootings are impossible to miss, some emerging threats are unseen but still potentially devastating — such as cyber attacks. “If I only had so many dollars to allocate to the security of my event,” said veteran planner James Schultze, CMP, “I would probably allocate most of them there, because of all the different ways a hacker can affect a group and its audience through cyber theft. The long-lasting repercussions of that.”

I think most planners are either too trusting of the venue and what it provides as far as service, and/or they’re a little … ignorant of the technical aspects of it.

In Convene’s survey, 23 percent of respondents said their event insurance covers data breaches, while 45 percent said they’ve adopted online security measures for meetings-related data and personal information. “I think most planners are either too trusting of the venue and what it provides as far as service, and/or they’re a little naïve or ignorant of the technical aspects of it,” Schultze said. “So they shy away from the issue altogether.”

But as more planning and management processes are automated and more event data is moved to the cloud, cybersecurity is only becoming more important. The new Exhibitions and Meetings Safety and Security Initiative has a subcommittee dedicated to it, and the Convention Industry Council’s APEX Standards Committee has created a Cybersecurity Workgroup.

At the facility level, cybersecurity is often a technical consideration related to physical infrastructure. New York City’s Jacob K. Javits Center recently established additional firewall protections on its IT systems, according to Javits’ Alan Steel, and is working with the International Association of Venue Managers on bolstering its Wi-Fi security. “I think our meeting clients are looking at that more on their own individual databases,” Steel said. “Generally speaking, we do not keep their data here within our own databases.”

Indeed, for event producers, dealing with cybersecurity starts with controlling how information is captured, stored, and shared — and not just digitally. Even meeting staff can be careless with it. “People put stuff in the bureaus, the credenzas, etc., that are around the hotel, and especially in the meeting space,” Schultze said. “Sometimes it’s stuff of a highly sensitive nature, not only in terms of corporate espionage but just things that people don’t want other people to know.”

It might not seem as dramatic as bomb threats or active shooters, but the stakes can be just as high. The Exhibitions and Meetings Safety and Security Initiative is working to develop guidelines for convention centers to be certified under the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s SAFETY Act. “We believe that cybersecurity enhancements that’ll be part of our application process with DHS’s SAFETY Act office will help identify and put more resources and ears to the ground for identifying and helping DHS and the FBI and others identify terrorist cells,” said IAEE’s David DuBois, CMP, CAE, CTA, whose organization is a founding member of the new security initiative. “We don’t know exactly what the conversations are going to be in our cyber subcommittee, but we think it’s going to add to the overall value of this initiative.”

Christopher Durso

Christopher Durso formerly was executive editor of Convene.