The Securities and Exchange Commission said publicly traded companies should disclose to investors the threat and potential impact of cyber attacks that pose a "specific and material" risk.

The SEC made its comments in a letter to Senator Jay Rockefeller, chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, that was released Wednesday. Last month, Rockefeller and four other Democratic senators wrote a letter to SEC Chairman Mary Schapiro urging the agency to issue guidance on disclosure of data security risk, including "material network breaches," attacks that may result in the theft of intellectual property or trade secrets.

Federal securities law obliges public companies to disclose risks that a reasonable investor would consider important to an investment decision, the SEC said in its letter. Those disclosures may include reporting a prior cyber attack or the threat of a future attack, as well as the impact of a computer assault, the SEC said.

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