When the conversation turns to the topic of branding, people usually focus on their favorite brands and the intangible characteristics associated with them. Mercedes-Benz is known for luxury and dependability. Apple is known for innovation and design. Walmart is known for selection and low costs. The list goes on.
There are two unspoken elements that go into every strong brand: Trust and reliability. These two elements don’t receive much attention until something goes wrong — credit card information is compromised, passwords are stolen, service is disrupted or products and services aren’t delivered as promised. In these and related cases, the organization’s brand is tarnished because the trust and reliability built between itself and its customers have been violated. A reputation for luxury, innovation or savings means little if customers don’t feel comfortable buying products and services from you.
So, where does cybersecurity come in? A brand is often a company’s most valuable asset, even though there is no easy way to quantify or measure the value. Because of this, and the risk that comes from breaches and theft, cybersecurity professionals play a critical role in preventing damage to the brand and repairing damage as quickly as possible. While brand management usually falls under the purview of marketing, IT needs to have a hand in guarding the brand and making sure the organization can continue always to secure its data and provide the trust and reliability customers depend on.
Every company needs to worry about how cybersecurity incidents will affect their brand. While breaches at big companies are well known and reported, even small- and medium-sized companies are targets.
The Role of Cybersecurity Professionals
Cybersecurity professionals protect an organization’s IT networks against intrusion, theft and disruption. Cybersecurity is particularly difficult and challenging according to the Department of Homeland Security because people can infiltrate a network from anywhere in the world (they don’t need physical access) while the networks themselves are growing more complex (providing people with more potential areas to exploit).
The most common positions in cybersecurity are for analysts, engineers and architects. Other positions include director and management roles. According to salary data from Robert Half International, cybersecurity pay is rising at an average of 5-6% each year, which is more than many other non-cybersecurity positions.
As a cybersecurity professional, you might be responsible for:
- Testing the network for possible intrusion (called penetration testing)
- Evaluating and strengthening current defenses
- Designing new protections to prevent unauthorized access
- Creating new policies and protocols for employees
- Training employees
- Securing physical access to the network — e.g., ensuring that organization laptops can’t be obtained and accessed by outsiders
- Creating and executing plans to respond to cybercrime incidents
Breaches and the Brand
Any kind of cybersecurity breach has the potential to diminish a brand, either by putting customer information at risk or by impairing the ability for the company to provide reliable service.
The best-known type of cybersecurity breach is the direct theft of passwords, personally identifiable information and credit card numbers. This is the type of breach most commonly reported in the media, as it directly affects consumers and usually requires their immediate action.
Distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks are designed to overwhelm an organization’s IT systems by inundating them with incoming traffic. A DDoS attack can prevent the organization from maintaining its operations and providing service, diminishing customers’ faith in the company. If people can’t access their preferred website, they might begin looking at competitors’ websites.
Ransomware is an emerging threat in the cybersecurity field. Through ransomware, a malicious party can deploy a Trojan horse that will essentially hold an entire organization hostage by threatening to delete or encrypt all programs and data. Customers might not know about ransomware, but they will be affected if the organization is no longer able to provide products and services.
Don’t ignore the cybersecurity threats that come from inside the organization. A recent study by Clearswift says that one-quarter of employees would sell inside information for less than $8,000, despite the threat of being discovered and facing termination and criminal convictions. And 3% would sell internal information for as little as $155. Breaches that compromise customer information erode trust.
Signaling Commitment to Security
To build a strong brand as it relates to cybersecurity, your customers need to know that you’re not taking security for granted and that you’re actively improving protections. You can do this by providing visual cues that your organization takes cybersecurity seriously. Harvard Business Review suggests sending signals or cues to customers that security protocols have been updated, partnering with well-known security organizations, requiring additional authentication and providing physical proof of additional security such as chips on credit cards.
Recovering from a broken brand can take a long time, but there are concrete steps an organization can take to lessen the damage:
- Apologize quickly and sincerely.
- Accept responsibility.
- Take steps to make sure the incident won’t happen again.
- Explain how you will help those who have been affected.