Cybersecurity: A Marketer's Problem?

Because my day job is investing in artificial intelligence, I end up thinking a lot about cybersecurity, which is the largest category of AI solutions. Reflecting on the most recent high-profile corporate hack, where Uber revealed a breach exposing data from 57 million users and drivers, I found myself wondering how many brand marketers felt a chill. 

None would relish the cleanup Uber now faces to reestablish the trust that has been lost from its base.  

According to a survey conducted by Ponemon and identity services firm Centrify, “The Impact of Data Breaches on Reputation and Share Value,” the fallout from a data breach can have a significant and long lasting negative effect.  The study found that 31% of customers will likely discontinue a relationship with a brand due to a breach, but a drastically higher number -- 65% -- will lose trust in the company.  Think about Equifax and the daunting task its marketing team now faces, trying to acquire new customers in the aftermath of an epic data breach.  

This typical slide in the customer base is generally compounded by a hit to the company’s stock price and valuation.  Most will remember Yahoo’s ill-timed breach of an estimated one billion email accounts (now known to be three billion) that knocked close to $400 million off the price under negotiation with Verizon in the final days before its acquisition.  According to the Ponemon study, public companies generally experience a 5% decline in their stock price directly after disclosing a breach.  

To say the least, a data breach is painful for everyone in a company, and marketers in particular. So, how comfortable are you that your company is safe from a similar disaster?

The human tendency is to think, “Our IT team has our backs and would not let the worst happen.”  This kind of confidence reminds me of an old routine from comedian Jerry Seinfeld about the misplaced trust most people have in New York cabbies.  These guys are professionals, right?  

In reality, there may be an IT disconnect about protecting customer data.  In the Ponemon study 71% of consumers said they believe organizations have an obligation to control access to their information, while only 46% of IT practitioners believe this to be true.  

 In addition, the siege of cyber hacks is on the rise, making it more and more difficult for even the most well-managed and -architected organizations to protect their vulnerabilities.  Ponemon cites this frightening statistic: 51% of Fortune 500 companies are attacked hourly.  This is war.

It’s no surprise, then, that cybersecurity is the largest category of AI solutions. I am exposed regularly to new technologies that automate the identification of security vulnerabilities currently addressed manually (a scary status quo).  

“AI is playing a role because humans can’t keep up with the pace of hacks – especially with the growing complexity of all our systems,” Rick Grinnell, managing partner of Glasswing Ventures, says.  “The bad guys are increasingly more sophisticated and well-funded. It’s easier for them to find a weak link in the chain, given the chains are getting longer.”

In other words, the attack surface of the network is growing, with the incorporation of cloud storage and more connected devices all creating more ways in.

If you want to give yourself a scare, try reading “Future Crimes,” by Marc Goodman, who shines a light on the dark side of technology advancement. Goodman illustrates the exponential volumes of data people are generating and all the ways it can be accessed and used unbeknownst to the average person at the heart of that data’s value.  

He warns, “The more we plug our devices and our lives into the global information grid -- whether via mobile phones, social networks, elevators, or self-driving cars -- the more vulnerable we become to those who know how the underlying technologies work and how to exploit them to their advantage and to the detriment of the common man.  Simply stated, when everything is connected, everyone is vulnerable.”

“So why is this my problem?” you ask. A fair question.  

Preparing for cyber threats, after all, is not in a marketer’s job description.  However, it would surely be a big mess to deal with if your company (god forbid) were to experience a data breach.  Also, as news about such events continues to break, your customers may start asking how you are protecting their data.  At the very least, you should know the answer to that query.

A certain amount of paranoia is healthy, and the responsibility of brand stewardship is expanding to new cyber territory.  Marketers should make it their business to understand their company’s cybersecurity strategy — because it is their problem.

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