Brace Yourself for the 5th Wave of Cyber Threats: Reputation Exploitation

The next wave of internet threats will involve deliberate attacks on reputation to undermine institutions and governments.
By: | November 5, 2018

The Gist: POLITICO Magazine identified “reputational exploitation” as the fifth wave of internet threats (after child pornography, cyber-bullying, radicalization and election interference). These are targeted smear campaigns based on misleading narratives or outright falsehoods that can be undertaken by any number of parties for a variety of reasons. Investors seeking to harm a company’s stock value and then pounce when prices fall; businesses seeking to tarnish a competitor’s brand image and steal their market share; governments aiming to undermine trust in a global order for their own political gain; or individuals pursuing their own ideological agenda.

What It Means: Commercial reputational exploitation can disrupt financial markets and sabotage the normal function of a capitalist economy. Individual targeted companies could suffer financial loss independent of any negligence, error, or external physical threat — representing an uninsurable risk. Smear campaigns launched by governments or individual bad actors can impact both domestic and foreign policy decisions and have wide-ranging global impact on regulatory environments. There’s also potential for such campaigns to spark political violence.

Individual targeted companies could suffer financial loss independent of any negligence, error, or external physical threat — representing an uninsurable risk.

Trends to Watch: Artificial intelligence will increasingly be used to generate content and distribute contingency-based advertisements and messaging. While this makes content delivery faster and cheaper, it also makes it easier to disseminate false or damaging information unchecked. Says POLITICO: “The mastery and integration of AI throughout the tech sector will not only benefit powerful players looking to peddle malicious content but also empower … illegitimate and nefarious actors to enter the social media ecosystems and wreak havoc.”

Action Plan: Technology companies and social media platforms must take proactive steps to flag and remove content that may be false or vitriolic in nature before the damage is done. Government agencies need to devote more resources to fighting internet-enabled reputational exploitation campaigns. This includes social media monitoring programs and “fast response” plans that enable correct, government-backed statements to be published and shared as a corrective measure as quickly as possible. For businesses, it’s more important then ever to develop a communications crisis management plan.

Katie Dwyer is a freelance editor and writer based out of Philadelphia. She can be reached at [email protected].

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