President Joe Biden has issued a warning for business leaders: “The magnitude of Russia’s cyber capacity is fairly consequential and it’s coming.”
But for many organizations, it may already be too late.
Security experts have warned that hackers could already have established backdoor access to important systems and are just biding their time before taking action. With Biden’s latest warning to business leaders, the looming threat of a cyberattack really does become a question of “if”, not “when.”
The administration is recommending several steps to help private sector partners prevent against cyber attacks, including using multi-factor authentication, consulting with cyber security professionals to make sure systems are protected against all known vulnerabilities, changing passwords across networks to prevent stolen credentials from being used, backing up and encrypting data and educating employees on cyber security.
What PR pros must know
For communications leaders, the warning from Biden is a call to reexamine those crisis comms playbooks.
“If a company’s communications team has not yet developed a response plan or set of templatized materials to respond to any number of the company’s cyber risks, I would consider this the giant neon sign telling you to do so,” says Frances Fyten, account director with Reputation Partners. “Now is very much the time to develop and prepare necessary communications plans.”
Fyten identifies a few key actions to prepare for an increasingly dangerous cyber landscape:
- Preparation. “Ideally, prior to any breach you should have a clearly defined and cross-functional team in place, including at a minimum, personnel from communications, legal and information technology departments,” says Fyten. This team should be trained on their roles and responsibilities and ready to go.You should also develop pre-drafted, templatized comms materials.
- Analysis. “Not all attacks require the same level of response,” Fyten explains. “With a cyberattack, you may not have all of the details of an investigation immediately — or, in many cases, ever.”
Fyten recommends taking time to understand what happened before launching a comms response — with the understanding that time is of the essence.
- Action. Quick and effective response is critical, and a failure to communicate can complicate cyber threats. “One additional unique, and unfortunate, feature of a cyberattack is that crime sometimes begets crime,” explains Fyten. “After a cyberattack occurs, victims can fall prey to additional scamming attempts. Phishing emails come through with information about credit monitoring services, or victims receive phone calls with ‘urgent’ news about the attack that requires a credit card number.”
Without rapid and clear comms in the wake of an attack, employees and customers will be vulnerable.
- Re-evaluation. In the wake of any crisis, it’s essential to go back and investigate the causes and responses to see what you can learn. Fyten recommends asking these questions:
- Were the communications tools effective at clearly informing victims of the details of the situation?
- If the attack resulted from an employee clicking on the wrong email link, what new trainings need to be implemented?
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