Cyber security: why comms teams can't afford to bury their head in the sand

What do Tesco Bank, the US Democratic National Committee and England's largest NHS Trust have in common? They have all fallen prey to high-profile cyber attacks recently.

Don't bury your head in the sand during a cyber crisis, warns Jennifer Evans
Don't bury your head in the sand during a cyber crisis, warns Jennifer Evans

They’re not alone. Government figures released last year show that two thirds of large British businesses suffered an attack in the preceding 12 months.

It is big brands who tend to make headlines when there’s good or bad news about them.

But cyber attacks are affecting companies of all sizes. Something as innocuous as a scam email or a malware download counts as an attempt to disrupt and cause harm.

Cyber attacks aren’t going away. If anything, they’ll become more frequent in 2017.

Anybody wanting to attend a cyber security conference or event this year is spoilt for choice. Businesses are starting to take the cyber threat seriously.

This is hugely significant, not just for IT teams, but for communications teams as well. Because for brands, given the proliferation of attacks, it is now a question of when rather than if they become a victim.

Cyber security threatens to be the next major reputational issue for brands who fail not just to demonstrate they have adequate defences in place, but critically, to communicate effectively when their defences are breached.

Responding to cyber attacks must be part and parcel of every crisis communications plan, if it isn’t already.

It’s not just who says what; the right plan must reflect on the channels used and the tone adopted.
If key stakeholders – customers, shareholders, colleagues – feel they’ve been kept in the dark, the damage to confidence in your brand could be profound.

Brands must make sure their communications protocols are as sound as their checks for infections or other operational measures. Communications cannot afford to be an afterthought.

It is critical to foster an environment and establish a process where all parties – senior management, comms, IT, operations – are in dialogue and sharing information.

The loss of customer data or sensitive financial information, an attempted extortion attempt or total networking paralysis can be distressing and costly.

But the long-term damage to a brand if you fail to communicate properly in the aftermath could be even more severe.

Crisis communications is by its nature reactive, so preparedness is everything. 2017 should be the year every comms team puts cyber security high on its watchlist.

The Ostrich Approach simply won’t cut it.

Jennifer Evans is a consultant at Linstock Communications

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