Go on the Offensive Against Cyberattack

    Jan 24, 2019

    By Robert L. Dilenschneider

    The Reach and Risks of Cyberspace
    The applications in cyberspace are powerful, but you need to be very careful. Some people believe the Internet is a 21st-century version of the Trojan horse. Yes, this gift of digital technology has brought many benefits to business: low-cost publishing, marketing, and public relations tools. In themselves, those digital options have significantly reduced the price of entry of starting enterprises in those fields. Anyone can buy a domain for $4.99 a year and learn how to design a Website for free. Moreover, everyman and everywoman can become their own self-promoters, for their personal branding or their enterprises. Capitalists never had it so good.

    On the other hand, the technology that keeps the Internet interconnected is constantly mutating. That makes its users, no matter how technically astute they are, vulnerable to terrorism, cyber war, spying, identity theft, fraud, file destruction, server collapse, intellectual property theft, leaking, e-mail that can be misinterpreted and lead to litigation, reputation damage, compromised privacy, spam, or worse.

    Today, at least one billion individuals on this planet have access to the Internet—a number that keeps growing daily. Think about a country like India, which is now manufacturing laptops that can sell for an incredible $10! That represents a huge new population of potential victims.

    Unfortunately, the authorities have not, as yet, devoted much time or resources to tracking down Internet swindlers. Moreover, when they are prosecuted, they usually walk away with light sentences. In addition, global miscreants are extremely clever and often devise ingenious ways to conceal their identities and their actual Web addresses. Looking ahead, one can be sure they will continue to ply their illegal trade as long as the money is there and the Internet available to make it possible.

    Offense is the Best Defense
    For now, however, the most basic advice is to know what you are doing. Know that the best defense is the offense for protecting the nation, oneself, the family, and the company from the worst of the Internet.

    Here are some fundamentals of going on the offensive:

    • Use old-fashioned common sense, recommends Mark Mershon, formerly with the FBI (now a senior consultant with The Dilenschneider Group). Ask, “Do I trust this source?” Remember, the Internet is a high-risk zone, and anything that sounds too good to be true probably is not on the level.
    • Put your own story out there and monitor reaction and where it comes from.
    • Pursue the identification of cyber attackers. Let the results be known. That’s a deterrent. As cyber-crime expert Robert Jones warns, this is only a task for experts, not amateur sleuths. The case studies of these can be posted on Websites and YouTube and perhaps become the script for television programs and films.
    • Invest the time and money to select the most appropriate and effective software to detect and block viruses. This must be a work-in-progress. More, it must extend to wireless communications. Within your organization there must be a group dedicated to just this aspect of electronic communications. It won’t be cheap. Consider that in terms of U.S. national security, some people estimate that detection and monitoring of digital threats could entail an expense of about $30 billion over a decade.
    • Change access devices such as passwords or codes frequently. Investigate suspicious activity, including employees’ and competitors’ online movements. Prosecute to the fullest employees selling or leaking proprietary material. Litigate against illegal competitive actions. Here it isn’t Internet law that is being applied. Therefore, litigation is a weapon that can and should be used.
    • Investigate what services are the best fit for monitoring the web for what is being said about business in general. This could be early warning of an attack. For example, if bloggers are attacking the United Way, the Red Cross as well as its board members could be next.
    • Have in place a plan for managing rumors and reputational crises. Sometimes no response is the right response. The mischief-makers, if they fail to get a rise out of the organization, could drop the matter and move on to another target. If a response is the answer, then have an overall message embedded in the response. That message might be that Company X has a sterling track record for global ethics. A message keeps the dialogue within boundaries. Never go off-message. As part of a response plan, set up a separate website or other digital spaces, such as blogs and microblogs, to manage your message. Enlist third parties to also use their sites to lend support. Never engage in a conversation on the opponents’ electronic territories.
    • Know the law, particularly about libel and defamation. Actually filing a lawsuit, or threatening to do so with a cease-and-desist order, has halted many a malicious amateur campaign. Most amateur attackers are clueless about the legal ramifications of what they are doing and will stop dead in their digital tracks when they are informed that they have broken the law.
    • Maintain a strong Web presence as a way to prevent or mitigate reputational attacks. Companies such as IBM enlist employees as bloggers. Since blogging is a free-flowing conversation, it tends to give the organization an aura of credibility: Here we are, ready to talk to you, with no filters. Another way is engaging constituencies through activities; for example, hold contests for user-generated input or encourage community building, promote suggestion sites, and provide links to information that’s not easily available to customers.
    • Hold confidential conversations in person, instead of using e-mail. Provided someone’s office is private and isn’t being bugged, why not just drop in on colleagues in person? On The Sopranos, Tony Soprano and Uncle Junior met in their medical doctor’s office for powwows. Also, in this litigious era, e-mail is no medium for self-expression. To prevent the appearance of impropriety, keep functions such as marketing and research from exchanging e-mails. It’s those supposed links that opposing lawyers look at.

    When it comes to Internet use, there are real risks, but there’s also the real danger of erring on the side of too much caution. That’s a big mistake. The Internet has created fresh ways in which individ¬uals and organizations can reach just about anyone, anywhere, for virtually no cost or low cost. Not doing that outreach makes for a competitive disadvantage.

    © 2010 Robert L. Dilenschneider. All rights reserved. Adapted and used by permission of the publisher, from The AMA Handbook of Public Relations: Leveraging PR in the Digital World, by Robert L. Dilenschneider. Published by AMACOM, a division of American Management Association.

    About the Author(s)

    Robert L. Dilenschneider is the founder and chairman of The Dilenschneider Group, a global public relations and communications consulting firm.  He is the former president and chief executive officer of Hill and Knowlton, Inc., and the author of many books, including the best-selling Power and Influence.