Why IT security PR is the new rock 'n' roll

Cyber security is fast becoming a headline-grabbing issue thanks to Edward Snowden's NSA revelations, and tech PR is now more exciting than consumer or fashion PR.

Edward Snowden: the NSA whistleblower appears at SXSW14 via a video link
Edward Snowden: the NSA whistleblower appears at SXSW14 via a video link

"I’m in IT security PR." It isn’t a line that’s likely to make much of an impact as a chat-up line at your next party. Nonetheless, I have to confess that I’m hooked, and I think it’s one of the most interesting areas of specialisation for PR people today.

Often when I interview new PR graduates and they try to convince me that they’re really interested in a career in b2b tech PR, I can see it in their eyes: they’re just going through the motions – they really want to work in consumer or fashion PR and tech PR is just a fall-back option.

But ask any of our account team here which is the most interesting technology area and they’ll reply cyber security. Why? Because it’s sexy, constantly changing and just a bit scary.  

It’s the stuff of headline news, and not just the tech trade press – it can also make the front pages of national, business and broadcast media.

It’s something that we can all relate to on a personal level. We all know the pain of having our credit card details stolen or the threats to the nation posed by state-sponsored cyber criminals, or even the recent avalanche of stories surrounding the NSA snooping and the debate over privacy versus security.  

On a business level too, cyber security is booming and so is the IT security business.

There’s something very alluring about the whole cyber criminal black market, which is highly organised and in general operates one step ahead of the security industry.

It’s got all the ingredients of a great story: the good guys (the IT security experts), the bad guys (the hackers) and the damsel in distress (British business).

The police are a bit like the ‘Keystone Cops’ with their largely ineffectual efforts to track down and bring to justice the offenders, all of which means that there are heaps of great stories to be told.  

The press are a bit tired of the FUD factor (fear, uncertainty and doubt), which has been the mainstay of IT security marketing campaigns for many years. Yet they never seem to tire of hearing about the latest scam unleashed by hackers on the unsuspecting public or business.

I’m also slightly ashamed to admit that I myself have been caught out by the odd cyber security scam. One particularly embarrassing occasion was when I was en route to attend a sales kick-off meeting for a security client in San Francisco. I was at the check-in at the British Airways desk and realised that I’d forgotten to get my ESTA (Electronic System for Travel Authorisation). So I logged on to the internet at the airport and inadvertently ended up on the wrong website, inputting all my passport and credit card details into a spoof site.

I was only made aware of my mistake when the check-in girl pointed out that the ESTA number was a fake. So, you can see that even though we hear and write about cyber scams on a regular basis, we’re still no more immune to them that the next person.  

The tech sector is always evolving and there’s always a new hyped technology, whether it’s the cloud, big data, the internet of things – the list is endless.

Yet cyber security is one that is all-enduring and the ingenuity of the cyber criminals on the one hand is astonishing, but so too is the naive approach taken by many major corporations to combat cyber crime.  

One tough aspect of doing PR on IT security is the reluctance of any businesses to speak out about security problems that they’ve experienced, or even what they’re doing to tackle security issues, because they’re fearful of becoming a target.

There’s even a reluctance of some vendors to speak on sensitive subjects like Anonymous and Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks, for fear of becoming a victim themselves. Yet, perhaps this is what adds an extra element of excitement.  

So, call me sad if you will, but I stand by my original assertion that IT security PR is the next rock 'n' roll.

I’d much rather grapple with the article about how ethical hackers are helping businesses guard against credit card fraud, or why mobile apps are the next big threat vector, than spill the dirt on the latest celebrity gossip, but then as they say it takes all sorts...

Dianne Canham is founder and consultant at éclat Marketing

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