As the pandemic continues to shift more activities to “virtual” experiences, nefarious actors are leveraging this change in behavior to conduct ransomware and other cyber attacks on organizations across all industries, including traditionally trusted institutions in the public and private sectors.
While the attacks may look the same, these malicious actors are more adept at using digital media than their predecessors. Instead of discretely conducting an attack, sophisticated cyber criminals will boast about their results on social media to raise their profile for future attacks, and in some cases, to incentivize a ransom payment.
In an ever-changing digital landscape, how do communications professionals advise organizations and help prepare for the inevitable? The answer involves combining communications technology with a comprehensive strategy, guided by subject matter experts.
Communications technologies are an integral part of an organization’s toolkit when responding to a crisis. In the case of a cyber incident, digital and brand intelligence platforms offer the unique ability to pinpoint conversations about an organization. With a variety of sources indexed, including pastes, dark web and social media networks, these tools enable communications professionals to identify conversations about a suspected incident. By deploying these tools before an attack occurs or in the immediate aftermath of one, communications experts can be the first line of defense, minimizing reputational risk to the organization while also assisting with incident response.
Additionally, communications technologies help professionals identify the voices and outlets covering the incident. From trade outlets focused on data centers to community-based outlets critical to local stakeholders, the individuals talking about an active cyber incident are not always necessarily mainstream voices. These voices, however, often have credibility and authority with their respective audiences. Responding proactively to these influencers will not only help inform their audiences, but also set the tone for subsequent conversations as news of the incident reaches larger audiences.
Communications technologies alone cannot create a successful incident response strategy, however. Digital communications tools must be met with professional experience and subject matter expertise. As cyber criminals’ tactics evolve, being able to inform interested parties in an accurate and effective manner is crucial. Too often, in a rush to assuage fears, inexperienced communicators make inaccurate claims about the nature of the information accessed in a breach. Later, this may require modification as more information is uncovered. Experienced professionals not only avoid those errors, but are also adept at explaining the implications and impact of an incident to a wider range of stakeholders.
Communications professionals are a critical part of the incident response team as they work alongside insurers, forensic investigators and legal partners. Leveraging their communications technologies and expertise to better understand the incident can empower the incident response team as a whole to respond effectively in times of crisis. In a world where increased cyber attacks are part of “the new normal,” communications technologies should be part of the new response.
Meredith Griffanti is MD in crisis communications at FTI Consulting and Matthew LaMagna is senior director in digital and insights at FTI Consulting.