Author – By Upscale Legal
As businesses continue to evolve in the digital age, mergers and acquisitions (M&A) have become integral strategies for growth and survival. Mergers and acquisitions provide advantages for both the acquiring party and the target, fostering fresh synergies and revitalizing both entities, resulting in the formation of a larger, more robust organization. However, the integration of a new entity into the corporate family introduces a range of cybersecurity challenges. In India, data and technology-centric sectors such as enterprise tech, fintech, ed-tech, health tech, e-commerce, and consumer services have led to a recent surge in M&A activities. With the increasing reliance on technology, the cybersecurity landscape is becoming a critical aspect of these transactions. This article explores the challenges posed by cybersecurity incidents in M&A transactions in India, the consequences of such incidents, and the essential strategies for managing cybersecurity risks throughout the entire process. In this article, we will delve into the cybersecurity challenges in India in Mergers and Acquisitions transactions, Consequences of Cybersecurity Incidents in M&A, and Mitigating Cybersecurity Risks.
Cybersecurity Challenges in India
India’s dynamic business landscape, coupled with its vast demography, makes it a prime target for cyberattacks. Recent instances include the breach of the Aadhaar database, one of the largest data breaches globally, impacting over a billion citizens. Other notable incidents involve data breaches at major entities like BigBasket, Unacademy, and Air India, raising concerns about the vulnerability of businesses across various sectors. Such incidents raise an interesting question regarding how to avoid such incidents in transactions including mergers and acquisitions.
Consequences of Cybersecurity Incidents in M&A
In the digital era, a company’s competitiveness is often directly linked to the volume and quality of data it possesses. However, the collection, storage, and processing of data must adhere to relevant laws and regulations. In India, rules under the Information Technology Act 2000 establish standards for handling sensitive personal information or data. A cybersecurity incident during an M&A transaction can lead to contract breaches, audit failures, and severe damage to a company’s business and reputation.
Furthermore, during M&A due diligence, where large volumes of data are shared over the internet, the risk of cyberattacks is heightened. Unauthorized access or leakage of sensitive information can result in significant setbacks for both the acquiring and target companies.
Mitigating Cybersecurity Risks
Mitigating cybersecurity risks in M&A transactions requires a proactive and comprehensive approach. A robust cybersecurity policy is imperative for all companies, emphasizing regular self-assessment of hardware, software, and networking components. In the context of M&A, the cybersecurity posture of both the acquirer and the target plays a crucial role in determining valuation and deal terms. Following are some processes to keep in mind to secure mergers and acquisitions transactions from the cyberattack
1. Cybersecurity Due Diligence:
Cybersecurity due diligence is an integral part of M&A due diligence. This process involves reviewing legal and regulatory compliance, assessing data protection standards, and examining contracts entered into by the target. Identifying potential penalties and legal consequences related to cybersecurity incidents is vital.
2. Collaboration of IT Teams:
Early involvement of IT teams from both the acquirer and the target is essential. Assessing the compatibility of their cybersecurity systems and evaluating the costs and consequences of integration should be prioritized. This collaboration ensures a smoother transition and minimizes the risk of cyber threats.
3. Secure Data Sharing:
Virtual data sharing during M&A transactions should be conducted using trusted document-sharing solutions. Sensitive information should only be shared at advanced stages, with proper redaction and password protection measures in place. Employing trusted platforms reduces the risk of unauthorized access.
4. Cybersecurity Audits:
For transactions where the cost of a cybersecurity incident is potentially high, an independent cybersecurity audit of the target’s systems and network, including penetration testing, should be considered. This proactive approach helps identify vulnerabilities and strengthens cybersecurity defences.
5. Integration Strategy and Risk Management Policy:
In technology sector deals, parties should make the formation of a mutually agreed integration strategy and a cybersecurity risk management policy a condition precedent to closing. This ensures that both parties are aligned in their approach to cybersecurity post-transaction.
6. Definitive Agreements with Adequate Protections:
Definitive agreements of an M&A transaction should incorporate representations, warranties, covenants, and indemnities specific to cybersecurity matters. This includes covering risks related to incidents suffered by key IT vendors of the target, providing a comprehensive legal framework for addressing cybersecurity issues.
7. Cybersecurity Risk Insurance:
Considering the increasing prevalence of cyber threats, including cybersecurity risk insurance as part of a transaction is gaining popularity. This can provide financial protection in the event of a cybersecurity incident and contribute to a more secure M&A process.
As M&A activities continue to shape the business landscape in India, managing cybersecurity risks has become paramount for successful transactions. The interconnectedness of businesses in the digital realm demands a comprehensive approach to cybersecurity, from due diligence to post-integration operations. By prioritizing cybersecurity efforts, companies can navigate the complexities of M&A with confidence, safeguard sensitive data, and foster a secure digital environment for all stakeholders. The evolving threat landscape necessitates a proactive stance, and embracing cybersecurity as an integral part of strategic planning is crucial in today’s dynamic business environment. As Indian businesses swiftly undergo digitization, the proliferation of cybersecurity threats is inevitable. Sectors experiencing significant M&A activity in India are primarily focused on technology and data, heightening the urgency of addressing cybersecurity issues. While regulations mandating robust cybersecurity protocols can serve as a beneficial framework for businesses with lax IT and data management practices, large-scale data breaches may trigger reactive responses from regulators, leaving stakeholders in need of clarity. Whether or not regulations explicitly mandate cybersecurity practices, the potential reputational, business, and valuation risks associated with cybersecurity incidents should compel prudent entities to evaluate the status of their IT systems. Implementing mitigation measures before, during, and after an M&A deal becomes imperative to navigate and minimize the impact of such risks.