Our last blog of 2014 should have been warm and fuzzy, perhaps with a final look at the great social media successes of the Christmas season and our favourite John Lewis Penguin? But celebration has of course been overshadowed by the tragic world news. With the Peshawar school massacre rightly at the forefront of the headlines, you could be forgiven for overlooking today's development on perhaps one to the most sinister cyber security breaches in history!
November 22 was the day that creeped up on us silently, yet now marks the day that cyber security breaches were taken to a whole new level. First, were the leaks of email content from the fortress of technology - Sony! Swiftly followed by the release of personal data and then perhaps something akin to stealing the crown jewels - the leak of authentic films which hadn't even found their way to the box office, today being downloaded across the globe.
At CrowdControlHQ we frequently see two very different worlds – communication and risk! As a result, we get to see the huge positive benefit that the digital evolution has had on the world, connecting people, information and ideas to create a truly global marketplace. We have written about social media connecting people in times of need during floods or illness, we’ve commentated on how the big charities have used social media to help us dig deep in our pockets - remember ice bucket challenge or makeup free selfie? And even how the police are using social media to solve crimes.
But in contrast, we have also written about many different types of digital security breach. The use of digital media by criminals, drug dealers and terrorists and how the ill prepared British victim have even fallen foul of being watched unknowingly in their own living rooms.
Sadly, the two - communication and risk go hand in hand - forming an uncomfortable 'ying and yang' they nuzzle alongside one another. The greater the communication reach, the more engaging the content, the higher the risk of being targeted by those keen to highjack the success, often resulting in destroying the reputation of their victim.
We have watched and supported our clients – including those with a high awareness of risk such as local authorities, police forces, banks and financial services grapple with the issues of reputation, security and engagement. The speed of digital growth has often left brands having to take hard knocks and learning on the hoof from less than perfect practice.
But the Sony hack perhaps marks the day that ‘Guerilla’ marketing became just too unthinkable, reaching a new and more sinister low point that most academics would probably shun away from comment, for fear of reprisal. With power transferred into the hands of those who appear to go beyond the day to day hack, as far as threatening human life, spreading fear - sparked (on this occasion) by a piece of theatrical satire.
The consequence as we all know - Sony have today announced their withdrawl of the film ‘The Interview’ from release. With no prospect of a release day in sight, not only for the big screen but even on DVD or digital - that’s £27.5 million entirely wasted! The threat is too great to ignore and the hackers have cleverly proved their technical prowess to the world - if they can out-manoeuvre techno giants Sony - then the average cinema chain is not going to risk putting their own technology and security protocols to the test.
Ironically, the first statement we often hear with reference to security breaches are that they are hard to equate to a financial value. This case certainly proves otherwise. The loss of earnings is very transparent and that's before you add in the loss of revenue from the leaked films, the ruin of the trust and relationship between Sony and many big stars who had their information leaked. The ultimate price will be extremely costly to not only the purse strings of Sony but the supply chain banking on box office success.
Rightly, the announcement today has caused outrage, horror and fear across the world. Celebrities have declared that the move is ‘a threat to free expression’ and the BBC are describing it a ‘game changer’. The problem is that even the gaming giants don’t seem to know which game they are playing? Or indeed who they are playing against. Is it a hack? Is it a cyber attack? A war or an act of terrorism?
Whatever the conclusion, one thing is for sure – it’s the start of a new era of digital enlightenment. Our communities, our workplaces and our economy are so intricately entwined with the digital world that attacking us online has a catastrophic impact on our businesses, our reputation and today’s lifeblood of communication.
This is why our British Government needs to invest resource, time and energy into leading the way on digital security, educating those at the forefront of public service and the economy about the risks to ensure that we - the UK pubic, the brand that engage with us, and businesses at large are ready! Some of our police forces, such as Greater Manchester Police are leading the way on digital but so much more could, and should, be done to keep us cyber safe this Christmas!
A really big thanks for following our blogs throughout 2014. We have enjoyed reading your comments and listening in on the debate. Let's hope for cyber peace this Christmas.
Michelle Leavesley @Leavesm Marketing Director CrowdControlHQ & Lecturer in Marketing Communications at Birmingham Business School
CrowdControlHQ is the UK's leading social media risk management and compliance platform