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Navigating the IT security challenges in merger & acquisition: a scenario breakdown.

Mergers and acquisitions (M&A) can be a golden opportunity for companies; however, security considerations can introduce a complex balancing act when considering two distinct IT architectures. 


This challenge is particularly acute for e-commerce and other internet-facing businesses. These companies expose themselves to security risks by placing their operations online. Acquiring companies naturally want to avoid inheriting legacy risks, which is why they conduct extensive due diligence to scrutinise the target company's security posture. 


This can create a significant burden for the target company. Aligning its platforms and security protocols with the buyer's standards can be a monumental task, especially under the tight deadlines often associated with M&A deals. Caught in the middle are the CISOs (Chief Information Security Officers) on both sides. They face the pressure to balance rapid integration with thorough security assessments and remediation efforts. 


A typical M&A scenario involves the acquiring company launching a multi-faceted security assessment of the target. This assessment delves into various aspects of the target's security infrastructure, including network perimeter, codebase, data security measures, cloud security posture, compliance standards, and more. Identified security gaps necessitate an ongoing cycle of assessment, remediation, and re-assessment. The goal for the acquiring company is to minimise any additional security risks they might inherit post-acquisition. 


However, time pressure can be a significant obstacle. Completing all necessary remediation work before the deal closes is crucial, but it's not always achievable. These lingering security gaps can create uncertainty and impact both parties' confidence in the deal. 

So, how can companies navigate these complexities and ensure a smooth, secure M&A transition?  


Here are some key strategies for both the target and acquiring entities: 

Target Entity: 
  • Centralised coordination: Establish a central project management function to oversee all security activities. This ensures clear communication and collaboration among stakeholders throughout the process. 

  • Data management: Implement a robust system to handle the diverse audit data formats generated during the assessment. Leverage automation tools to streamline data analysis and extract relevant security insights. 

  • Accurate reporting: Standardise reporting procedures to guarantee accuracy and maintain open communication channels with the acquiring company. This helps address any discrepancies promptly and builds trust. 

  • Collaboration is key. Foster an environment where the CISO, legal counsel, and other stakeholders can transparently share progress and risk assessments. 

  • Prioritisation and planning: Clearly define what constitutes reasonable security measures in the deal context. Align IT strategies with broader business goals and prioritise tasks effectively. As deal day approaches, implement clear project plans and resource allocation strategies to prepare for the increased workload. 


Buying Entity: 
  • Target state agreement: Collaborate openly with the target company to define the desired security posture for the merged entity after the acquisition. This shared understanding streamlines the integration process and minimises surprises. Recognise the potential for differing security postures and de jour standards that may impede agreement. A common, abstract language is vital.  

  • Maintain open communication: Establish regular communication channels with the target CISO to stay updated on security progress and agree on minimum update details. This fosters trust and transparency. Recognise that, until the deal is signed, the other company is only obligated to disclose what is necessary to conclude the deal. 

  • Vendor scrutiny: Carefully examine vendor information provided by the target to ensure its accuracy and compliance with security standards. Include flexibility clauses in contracts to accommodate potential changes. Equally, ensure the terms of reference supplied to your due diligence agent are unambiguous. 

  • Collaborative assessments: Work collaboratively with the target company to streamline security assessments. Ensure both entities are on the same page regarding timelines, expectations, and desired outcomes. 

  • Understanding the target's challenges: Acknowledge the difficulties the target company might face when integrating new security tools and modifying existing processes. Offer support and resources to facilitate a smoother transition where it makes sense. 

  • Compliance planning: Conduct a comprehensive analysis of the target's compliance standards. Develop a collaborative plan to bridge any gaps and ensure alignment with the acquiring company's standards. 

  • Post-deal remediation: In collaboration with the target, create a robust post-deal remediation plan. This plan should clearly define contractual obligations with penalties to ensure accountability and commitment to ongoing security measures. 

By prioritising collaboration and adopting these strategies, both the target and acquiring companies can navigate the complexities of M&A security challenges. This collaborative approach paves the way for a secure and successful transition, laying the foundation for a future built on strong security practices. 

If you need support with IT security challenges, contact us today.



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