Looking back on the General Counsel NL Annual Conference 2019

You stumble out of bed some cold winter morning and waddle to the shower, eagerly awaiting to be greeted by a warm jet of water. However, as you twist the tap you have an epiphany, all this time you thought your water was sourced from some water refinery, but judging by the cold chill descending your spine, it now appears to come straight from the Arctic Ocean. You can almost hear the distant screech of a whale; this was the sound of you cursing your landlord of course. Everyone has experienced this before; we could only wish it upon our worst enemy. Now, proceed to unknowingly add salt to your coffee, toothpaste to your shirt and no more cheese to your wine; the sum of this is an exact impression of what it feels like for the cybersecurity of your company to fail, unobservable, unexpected and disastrous.

CYBERSECURITY & THE CLOUD: What General Counsel Should Know

This year’s annual conference offered a helpful perspective into the world of cybersecurity, with valuable insights from an executive of the municipality of the Hague, an associate general counsel straight from the frontlines at Microsoft, a former representative of the Dutch equivalent of the CIA, and a special feature by a face some of us may know all too well, a former TV weather presenter. Our host Frits Bussemaker, the chairman of the institute for accountability in the digital age, kicked off the event at the impressive Peace Palace, the home of the International Court of Justice and the Permanent Court of Arbitration, where the speakers had the following things to say.

 SASKIA BRUINES: Deputy Mayor for Education, Knowledge Economy and International Affairs, City of The Hague

There are many ethical questions which still need to be discussed with regard to data and cybersecurity. It’s about protection of individual rights, equality, privacy and public values. The Hague is a setting at the forefront of this discussion and is playing an ever-increasing role in cybersecurity and digitalization. This comes as a great benefit for those GC’s wishing for an opportunity to carefully take care of processing data and update the security or streamline the systems within the companies they work for. A topic that, I believe, is already high listed on every GC’s agenda.

MARGOT RIBBERINK: Former weather presenter at RTL
On the topic of cloud services, we received an insight into cloud formations, a refreshing distraction from the daunting task of securing cyberspace and digitalization. But, if we want to keep admiring the clouds, we have to work on the sustainability of our companies. Margot Ribberink gives expert professional advice in turning companies green.

JEFF BULLWINKEL: Associate General Counsel at Microsoft Europe
Those colleagues who will click on anything that pops on their screen are the reason why 90% of intrusions begin with an email; cybersecurity is only as secure as its weakest link. Moreover, cyber attacks are becoming an increasingly popular weapon among state actors and illegitimate groups; any ill-prepared company is vulnerable. Maybe it is time for a new Geneva Convention addressing cyberwarfare. After all, data has become the world’s most valuable resource and more people than ever are taking the necessary steps to get more of it, whether legally or illegally.

ROB BERTHOLEE: former Head, Dutch General Intelligence and Security Service AIVD
To give some perspective on the Russian Federation, try to visualize the Dutch prime minister bare-chested on horseback. For us unimaginable and ridiculous, but these kinds of pictures of Putin are well received in Russia. Russia is macho and aggressive. We can see that as well in Russian international politics and in its policy instruments. China on the other hand is more assertive than aggressive, but is just as ruthless in pursuing its national strategy. Both countries massively use their digital power to achieve their goals. An explosive Middle East, an unpredictable United States and an insecure Europe only add to the complexity in the world. In this reality, every General Counsel should table the question how dependent their company is as Europe is losing its footing. Only recently, Maersk alone suffered 300 million dollars losses as a result of Notpetya, a cyberattack suspected to have originated from Russia. The total damage to companies all over the world was many times greater. This is not just about the security of our own networks and the integrity of our data, but it is about the security of the networks of others as well, as it could involve clients. We are talking about the integrity of our businesses. In the course of his keynote, Rob presented several other examples of cybersecurity issues. His message: “Cybersecurity is Chefsache.”

With 11 roundtables ranging from topics such as Cyber Compliance to Dealing with Digitalization, there was ample opportunity to learn from valuable insights and collect new ideas to put to practice. Finally, this would not be a proper GCN congress without a generous measure of networking and a borrel, all within the impressive setting of the Peace Palace, it was once again, gezellig.