Cyber war goes personal; monitor your online reputation

Cyber war goes personal; monitor your online reputation

Recently, an online retail company sold a bad yo-yo to a teen-aged customer. After several lengthy go-rounds from the teen requesting a return of the product and a refund, the company dismissed the customer, failing to live up to their written, contractual obligations, and leaving behind an extremely disgruntled former client.

In the past, companies could have easily written off a scenario like the one above, as “just one unsatisfied customer” which they might suspect would not disrupt much of their business. Oh sure, occasionally you get the customer who will threaten to take you to court, but the company legal team usually gets by this in, dragging out the legal process until the angry customer can no longer afford to fight the battle. Today, however, this is no longer the case.

Aday later, the CEO awakened to a nasty surprise, when his CIO reported that the company website had been taken down by someone or something, such as a bot (web robot), or software application that runs automated tasks over the Internet with extraordinary fast speeds. The bot was the lead agent in a devastating attack on the company. Soon thereafter, a directed denial of service attack flooded the company servers, crashing their systems and taking their business off-line.

When the company recovered from this attack, they soon discovered thousands upon thousands of bad blog posts, smearing the name of the company. Bad reviews on the company were soon coming in from across the globe.

Additionally, company websites and emails were laden with malware and trojans. Within days, company sales had deteriorated to nothing. Social media sites such as Facebook and twitter were abuzz with word of the demise of the company, its poor service, and complete disregard for customer service.

A few weeks later, the company did indeed fail. While this scenario is fictitious, companies around the globe are now facing real-time threats from disgruntled customers and employees. The Internet is enormous, and for those who disregard it, the Internet can become an extremely hostile place to a company’s reputation, and future prospects. It can be the end of your bottom line—both personal and professional.

It’s as important to understand and monitor your online reputation, as it is to install critical firewalls and antivirus protections both at home and in the workplace.

Management and control of cyber security is entirely yours. No one else can assess your needs, your use, and ultimately your safety on the Internet and in social media. Although experts are available to help, implementation is based upon behaviours within the company coming directly from each employee.

As the Internet continues to expand, so too does social media, the cloud and our need for mobility with the “bring your own devices” invading every workspace. With the advancement of artificial intelligence and autonomous computing, the world has become a very interesting and dangerous place. Loss of personal privacy is becoming commonplace as we freely give away our information for the use of social media platforms and applications that now track our every move. With access to this information, the loss or defacement of an online reputation can come quickly and stay permanently.

Many of us have hundreds of friends on Facebook, and hundreds more of professional associates on media groups such as LinkedIn. But how many of these “friends” and “professional associates” do we really know personally? Would any of these “friends” and “professional associates” be potential enemies, turning against you to destroy your online social reputation?

Florida International University is conducting interesting research in a variety of aspects of social media to answer these and other questions that pertain to your online loss of privacy and potential violations of your personal security.

While we cannot give you a one-size-fits-all shield to protect your loss of privacy and manage your social media reputation, we can offer some suggestions for safer and more productive experiences.

Some suggestions

From our research, we offer the following suggestions:
1. Conduct an internal Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats (SWOT) analysis of your cyber business and personal life. Identify those things that are working for you, such as your firewalls, anti-virus software, virtual private networks, and other security practices/procedures and keep assessing their effectiveness. Determine weaknesses and vulnerabilities in your security practices, as well as the way you do business online, how your employees interact across the Internet, the devices they bring into the workplace and the potential for transfer of viruses onto your network systems. Also assess the way you access and use social media. Identify potential new opportunities, but keep in mind that competition has the same aims and may implement counter social media systems that become a threat to your business or personal life.

2. Develop an internal policy with access control lists—who and what apps can have access to your personal information. Beware of both lazy and bad people. Many times, malware can be installed on your equipment because either you or your people were lazy and not attending to the security and privacy settings on your systems. Never let anyone else use your login credentials. If login credentials are compromised, immediately change your login information.

3. As regards “bad people,” there are those who have no morals or ethics and could at any time turn from friend to enemy. Beware! This could include social media contacts, email clients who are phishing, and even you when you post stupid pictures of yourself on a website. Remember, once something is on the Internet, it’s out there forever!
It’s important to check your digital reputation regularly, to determine if someone has “bombed” you in the social media. Be careful out there...the Internet can be a jungle!
(Iyengar is a distinguished Ryder Professor and Director, School of Computing and Information Sciences, Miami; Miller has been with US Air Force for over two decades and is Coordinator, Discovery Lab, Florida International University)

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