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You’ve just been hacked. Now what?

It’s Monday morning. You sit down at your desk and prepare yourself for the long week ahead. But before you can even grab your first sip of coffee, your computer suddenly becomes inoperable. A message appears on your screen, purportedly from a hacker group, claiming they have taken over your company’s technological infrastructure. As you stare in disbelief, confidential information and vicious threats flash on your screen. You’re under cyber attack.

If this sounds like something from Hollywood, well, it kind of was. It happened to Sony Pictures in November 2014, reducing its employees to using pen and paper, spoiling the theatrical release of its film The Interview and making global headlines in the process.

Unfortunately, Sony Pictures isn’t the only victims of hackers. Home Depot, Walmart, Winners and Target, have all been hit by data breaches, exposing these companies to vulnerable customers, lost revenue, nervous investors and years of litigation.

If you’re concerned about your personal or business information being stolen, you’re certainly not alone.

In February 2015, Navigator undertook the first in-depth opinion survey in Canada on the public’s awareness and assessments of data compromises, losses and breaches. We wanted to understand Canadians’ awareness and expectations regarding the private information they’ve entrusted to their retailers, financial institutions, government agencies and technology providers. We found that 70 per cent of those polled recalled recent data breaches in the news. Of these, nearly half could recall specific attacks on companies.

The fact that so many Canadians are aware of cyber attacks might explain why 79 per cent of those polled expressed that they were concerned about their data being improperly accessed. Further, 68 per cent believe incidents of cyber attacks have increased in the past three or four years. Canadians are most concerned about the safety of their governmental and financial information.

This public anxiety has manifested in two ways. First, more than half of Canadians believe our laws protecting online privacy are insufficient. Second, Canadians hold those who experience breaches or cyber attacks as responsible. Few will accept any deflection of responsibility in security compromises of their personal information or transactions.

Governments and organizations are quickly realizing the importance of cyber security. In Europe, new data protection laws coming into effect in 2018 will drastically increase fines for privacy breaches. This month, President Obama released his ‘Cybersecurity National Action Plan’ that boosts annual investment to over $19 billion. New measures include password research programs, addressing labour shortages and extensive public awareness campaigns. Perhaps most importantly, Obama’s plan creates the American federal government’s first Chief Information Security Office, a position that’s now common for large private sector organizations.

In Canada, a survey of IT professionals from Scalar Decisions Inc. found that reported cyber attacks increased 17 per cent in 2015. Respondents reported an average of 40 attacks per year, with 51 per cent experiencing a loss or exposure of sensitive information. Of those surveyed, only 37 per cent believe their organizations are winning the cyber war, a decline of four per cent from the previous year.

Ultimately, these denial-of-service, phishing, web-borne or rootkit attacks can damage a company’s bottom line. On average, respondents said their organizations spent approximately $7 million on the remediation of an attack. Incurred costs included clean up, lost productivity, operational disruption, damage or theft of IT assets and infrastructure, and harm to its marketplace image. In response to these growing cyber threats, respondents claimed their information security budgets have increased 10 per cent since 2014.

While investment in security infrastructure increases and governments implement tougher laws, some data breaches and cyber attacks are still inevitable. How can organizations best prepare themselves for the communications fallout of it all?

Obviously, it’s best not to be left scrambling in the event of a digital breach. That’s why we’re working with many of our clients to produce response plans for these occurrences.

Disorganized or delayed responses to security breaches exacerbate challenges with your customers, investors and media. You need an insightful response plan to defend your reputation. In fact, clear communication is something the public demands too. Our research found that over 60 per cent of Canadians expect affected companies to immediately disclose any breach, assure customers they will be reimbursed for any costs and comply with government regulators. If your company was hit with a cyber attack, would you know what to say or how to say it?

One of the key tools in any response is social media. It provides the means to push your message and the tools to understand what is being said about you and the incident. Further, advertising, analytics and conversation listening ensure your message reaches the right people while granting you the ability to measure its reception. A forceful, informed approach helps to define the issue on your terms while preventing the spread of misinformation.

In future years, cyber security will probably be viewed as a less intimidating topic. Modern infrastructure and procedures will likely be equivalent to those associated with product safety, and understanding the right, tools, responses, and professionals will be critical parts of doing business. However, how and when that will happen is still being determined. In the digital era, you can’t afford to be voiceless, incorrect or tone deaf. The current reality is that there are no procedures in place that can protect you better than taking the necessary steps yourself to ensure you have an appropriate and effective response to cyber attacks.

Photo: “Mud Lock” by darkday

Personal Online Reputation Recovery: A Primer

First impressions matter. You never get a second chance at a first impression. Every touchpoint someone has with you (or your brand) can make or break that first impression. As an individual, even if you don’t see yourself as being in the public eye, the Internet sees it differently. In fact, as too many people have learned the hard way, the Internet can ruin a reputation with speed and efficiency. We live with a permanent record of everything we say and do, whether we like it or not, regardless of our say in the matter. Even if you’ve lived a deliberately quiet life to prevent online troubles, you’re not guaranteed a clean personal reputation online. If you’re not filling up digital space with factual content about yourself, someone else could. And trust me, some people dedicate their existence to this kind of work. I’d link to some examples, but I don’t want to give them any currency. And as brutally unfair as it is, even if someone is not deliberately attacking your reputation, someone who shares your name can just as easily ruin it.

Navigator often gets mandates to help companies and individuals with these types of challenges. Of course, we don’t see this work as ‘online’ reputation recovery; it’s reputation recovery, period. But it’s impossible to do reputation recovery without a digital plan. No matter what lengths you take to recover your reputation in the real world, so long as people can plug your name into Google, you’re vulnerable. What will they find? Do the search results tell your story? Do you own your personal brand? I’d like to take a deep dive into why (online) reputation management and recovery matters, and how you can protect yourself. While I’ll focus on personal reputation recovery, many of these principles apply to brands and businesses too. So, take out your notepad, and let’s get started; I’ve got plenty of actionable take-aways for you.

Why do I need to manage my digital reputation?

For many people, your digital image will be their first impression of you, whether you like it or not. We have seen first-hand that when someone says something nasty about you and it appears on the first page of a search engine’s results—whether it’s true or not— it can have long-term consequences for your reputation.

But just as much as your online reputation can be a liability, it can be an asset. If you’re wont to put your best foot forward in real life, you should also do so in your virtual life. Treat your first page results as your public C.V. You have an opportunity to tell your story. Make sure you’re doing it. If not, someone else eventually will. So, stop what you’re doing, head on over to Google, type in your name, and see if that’s the story you want told. Do the same on Bing and Yahoo. For each result, identify whether it refers to you, and whether or not it’s positive. Also keep a close eye on items that are about someone who shares your name and may have negative content. Sure, that person isn’t you, but don’t expect searchers to always know the difference.

I found something nasty, how can I erase it?

You can’t. Welcome to the Internet, the Wild Wild West of free speech, where even the best lawyers can’t remove slanderous attacks. If you try your hand at a lawsuit, I wish you all the luck in the world. You’ll expend considerable resources, with no guaranteed outcome, while your search results remain unchanged. Instead, you need to manage risk by giving search engines better and fresher content to source. While you cannot completely erase unflattering content, you can work to have it removed from the first page of search results. And that’s what you should focus on— 94% of searchers never click through to the second page. If it’s not on page one, as far as the Internet’s concerned, it doesn’t exist. This is why you need to focus aggressively on these results.

Where do the biggest threats lie?

As a digital guy, it pains me to say this, but this is where traditional media outlets have a leg up. It just takes one negative story in the Toronto Star, or the Globe and Mail, and it can skyrocket to the top of the search results. Media outlets have very high domain authority, which is one of the variables search engines assess in determining rankings.

This is why media relations still matters. In almost all cases, reporters will try to contact you for comment before publishing your story. You need to get your side of the story in that article, because whether you like it not, that article has a very good chance of appearing on page one results. And since we know that’s a likely outcome, you might as well take every possible measure to frame the story on your terms. If the story is published without your share of voice, you might be too late. Don’t let it come to this. This is why a solid media relations strategy is critical to your online reputation. If you want a positive online profile, you need a media relations plan. Period.

If I can’t delete the nasty stuff, how do I fight back?

You fight back with a sea of positive content. If that sounds daunting, you’re right; it is. And when it’s your own reputation on the line, the last thing you want is to be told to be patient. I wish I had a silver bullet for you, but I don’t. If anyone tells you they have it, run away. The best online reputation managers will tell you it takes time and patience to improve search results. It can be done, but it won’t happen overnight. Instead, you have to hunker down, get your elbows up and crank out information about yourself that is truthful. It’s the best way to obscure, then suppress, negative content. Don’t wait until it gets nasty. Build a content wall – a fortress that makes it tough for unwanted content to float to the top of the results. A preventative strategy is by far the best approach for your long-term reputational health.

What can I do right now to take control?

Sophisticated search engine optimization takes engineers and pros who do this work for a living, but that shouldn’t stop you from getting started today. Here are 10 things you can do to get a handle on your online reputation:

Own your domain. Search engines use hundreds of variables to determine how to rank content, and whether a keyword (in this case, your name) appears in the URL is an important factor. A domain name that has your name in it, has a good chance of ranking at the top. Of course, it will only rank if you do something with that domain. Simply owning it isn’t enough. Hence the next step.

Launch a website and produce quality content. Once you have your domain, you need to put it to use. The best way to do that is to launch your own website and use it to share content—ideally in your area of professional expertise. You need to feed the beast that calls himself Google. (Yes, I just personified a search engine, but it’s totally called for, given that the search engine now has its own brain). You don’t need to pump out new content every day, but you will need to develop and stick to a regular schedule. Google prefers fresh content when ranking results. Feed the beast.

Convert your LinkedIn profile into a well-curated news feed. This one’s a big one. LinkedIn profiles skyrocket to the top of search results. That’s why it’s the first social media network I’ve listed here. In terms of personal branding, it’s more effective than the others. If you don’t have a profile yet, get one. If you have one, take 30 minutes right now to give it a thorough update. Make sure all the fields are filled in. Ask professional contacts to give you endorsements and recommendations. Start sharing thoughtful content (your own blog posts, industry news, and trends, etc).

Develop SlideShare content. Now would be a good time for you to develop a slide deck or two, showing off your knowledge and expertise in your industry. This platform also ranks well, and connects to LinkedIn seamlessly (surprise, surprise, LinkedIn owns Slideshare).

Make sure your Twitter account is appropriately named. This isn’t a place to be creative. Stick with your name—you need Google to know which Twitter account is yours, so it can list it in search results. Keep your Twitter feed focused. Find and share useful information on topics in your industry. Engage with others, but only if it helps you build relationships. Don’t spout off your political or religious views unless that’s your business. Instead, write well-crafted tweets that add value to the conversation and attract influencers to follow and engage with you. And while you’re at it, retweet influencers you respect.

Create a Google+ profile: Never heard of Google+? You’re not alone. It’s a highly underused platform, and its death has been predicted countless times in the last five years. Yet, it’s still here. This is a good thing because it’s a Google product and Google connects many dots to build online profiles. You might as well make it easy for the Google universe to know who you are. Add links to your website and other digital properties and profiles. Share your LinkedIn content here too.

Clean-up your Facebook profile. Now would be a good time to do a thorough review of your previous status updates. Unless you’re a ninja with Facebook’s privacy settings, assume that everything you’ve ever published on Facebook is there for the whole world to see. Triage accordingly and delete questionable content.

Set-up an About.me profile. About.me has a high domain authority, which means that search engines give it high rankings in search results. It costs nothing to set up an account and it gives you another platform to promote yourself.

Provide value on Quora. If you haven’t heard of Quora, it’s a question and answer website. Create an account, fill out your profile and search for questions in your industry. Then, go answer them. Even if 10 people have already answered the question, don’t let that stop you. Your job is to write an epic, thoughtful response that demonstrates your knowledge.

Share your amazing website content across all your social media platforms. Doing so gives you an opportunity to engage other key influencers. If you’re going to invest time and effort into producing good content, you want it to get as much mileage as possible. The only person who can get you the mileage you need is you (or someone you’ve designated to do this work for you).

What can I do in the future?

  • Now that you’ve taken all the steps I’ve outlined above, don’t take your foot off the pedal. The moment you stop maintaining your online profile is the moment you tell Google that other content is more relevant. Remember, search engines value fresh content.
  • Don’t forget about the second most popular search engine: YouTube. Much like you should use SlideShare to show off your expertise and add value in your industry, you might want to consider doing the same on YouTube. YouTube videos also rank well in search results (surprise, surprise, Google owns YouTube).
  • Consider writing a Wikipedia article. As you’ve probably seen countless times, Wikipedia content always ranks high in search results. Of course, not every person qualifies for his or her own Wikipedia article. You need to be what Wikipedia deems ‘worthy of notice.’ This means the information must be verifiable via third-party sources. The subject of the article (you), needs to have received significant coverage in reliable sources that are independent. In other words, your own website or social media profiles don’t count as third-party validation. This too is where a solid media relations plan can make a world of a difference; there’s a lot of science (and some art) to writing an article that will pass Wikipedia’s test. If you want to take that route, I highly recommend you consult professionals.
  • Write for other websites. The more links you can drive to your own website, the better your chances of boosting its rank. This has the added benefit of helping you drive content from other web properties higher in search results for your keyword.
  • Write a book. I know, this probably sounds like an impossible idea, but writing and publishing a book can do wonders for your online reputation. With it comes earned media, which boosts your search profile and positions you as an expert or authority in your field.

This is a lot of work, how can I do all of this without going crazy?

Dealing with a crisis, especially when it’s personal, is incredibly tough. You spend a lifetime building your reputation, and it can be compromised with just one negative search result. It’s vicious and unfair. The good news is that there are professionals who can help with all of this. If it gets to that point, having people in your corner can make all the difference.

Navigator Poll Shows Widespread Support for Infrastructure Spending

Methodology

Navigator’s nationwide online survey was conducted to understand Canadian attitudes toward federal infrastructure spending. The study was undertaken between January 22 and January 29, 2016.

The survey sampled 1,211 Canadian residents 18 years-of-age or older. Quotas were established to ensure that the sample was representative of the provincial populations and age distributions. A random sample of this size would yield a margin of error of 2.83%

Summary

Federal government Infrastructure spending generates widespread public support

In the current pre-budget period, widespread support for the federal government’s proposed infrastructure spending to stimulate the economy emerges nationally, with almost eight-in-ten (78%) Canadians registering support for spending on items like public transit, social housing and green initiatives.

Support is notably strong: more than one-third (35%) of Canadians ‘strongly support’ such spending.

Given the pervasiveness of support, few regional differences emerge, though residents of Atlantic Canada are among the most likely to support (81%) overall and most strongly support (54% ‘strongly support’ infrastructure spending). Residents of Alberta, by contrast, are somewhat less so inclined: 74% support, with 32% strongly supportive.

A majority of Canadians support infrastructure spending that results in a deficit of $10 billion for each of the next three years

While support for infrastructure spending declines when linked to a $10 billion dollar deficit each year for the next three years, majority support continues to be apparent: 51% of Canadians indicate support for spending that will result in deficits of $10 billion for each of the next three years.

Regionally, residents of Atlantic Canada are most supportive of deficit-financed spending on infrastructure (65% support), while Albertans are least receptive (42% support).

Little change in public support emerges, should the government spend more on infrastructure even if it means that the deficit will be more than $10 billion. Almost one-in-two Canadians (48%) continue to support infrastructure spending that would result in more infrastructure spending with a deficit of somewhat more than $10 billion.

Support declines as the size of a potential deficit increases

Should the federal deficit rise to $15 billion or up to $20 billion, public support declines. Just over one-third (36%) of Canadians would support a budget deficit of up to $20 billion for the next year.

Clearly, tolerance for deficits is apparent. In challenging economic times, there is receptivity to stimulus spending that results in deficits. Despite such tolerance, deficits must be contained and include a plan for a return to a balanced position, if public support is to be maintained.

One-in-two Canadians support immediate relief to oil producing provinces

Half of all Canadians surveyed (49%) would support immediately directing $1 billion to oil producing provinces for infrastructure projects. Alberta residents stand out as most supportive (72%) of immediate federal funds being directed to oil-producing provinces.

Comparison of Support for Infrastructure Spending and for Various Spending Plans

Comparison of support for infrastructure spending and for various spending plans

Support for Immediately Directing up to $1 Billion to Energy Producing Provinces for Infrastructure Projects to Help Local Economies

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Detailed Findings

Support for Government Plan to Spend on Infrastructure Projects Across Canada

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Support for Government Plan to Spend on Infrastructure Projects Across Canada

Support for government plan to spend on infrastructure projects across Canada

Support for Infrastructure Spending that will Result in a Deficit of $10 Billion Each Year for the Next Three Years

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Support for Infrastructure Spending that will Result in a Deficit of $10 Billion Each Year for the Next Three Years
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Support for Infrastructure Spending in the Upcoming Spring Budget Even if Result is Deficit of More than $10 Billion for Next Year

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Support for Infrastructure Spending in the Upcoming Spring Budget Even if Result is Deficit of More than $10 Billion for Next Year

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Support for Immediately Directing up to $1 Billion to Energy Producing Provinces for Infrastructure Projects to Help Local Economies

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Support for Immediately Directing up to $1 Billion to Energy Producing Provinces for Infrastructure Projects to Help Local Economies

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Download the Navigator Nationwide Survey on Canadian Attitudes Toward Infrastructure Spending PDF.