Want to Avoid Ransomware? Stop Boasting Online.

November 2021

Image: Westend61 via Getty Images

A company trying to impress customers and competitors inflated its annual sales figures on its website, claiming it made $2,000,000 in revenue when it actually was closer to $200,000. When caught, it blamed poor proofreading for not catching that extra zero.

This example from a recent cybersecurity conference points to something beyond public relations problems when a company is caught making false claims. When we inflate our images or fail to fix inaccurate information, we can attract unwanted attention from cybercriminals.

Ransomware remains a major threat

Ransomware remains the biggest threat to both consumers and companies that conduct business online. Which is close to everyone these days. This type of malware has existed for years, but until recently victims kept low profiles, preferring to pay off captors as quickly as possible. The exceptions were service disruptions that caused harm and municipalities forced to explain odd entries in public ledgers.

Today, everyone dreads clicking on the wrong link, app or website to generate a screen demanding payment in cryptocurrency to unlock a device. That’s because every 11 seconds, someone falls victim to ransomware, according to the 2021 Verizon Data Breach Investigations Report. These aren’t kids messing around; these are organized cyber gangs, some state-sponsored, that now disrupt supply chains (like gas and food). And use proceeds to fund weaponry.

Ransomware also is disrupting the insurance industry, where cyber policies are strained by financial demands. Ransomware gangs generally spend a few months surreptitiously rummaging around a victim’s systems and databases. One of the first documents they hunt for is a cyber insurance policy to find out how much the company is insured for. Then they seek exactly that amount in cryptocurrency once everything is locked down and, increasingly, threatening to publicly release private data.

Tunneling in on channels

Ransomware is having an impact on content marketing too. Broader use of email filtering software can block legitimate messages based on established rules for what gets through and what doesn’t. Some marketing teams report spikes in unsubscribe rates due to automated programs opening a footer’s required unsubscribe link as part of an external email inspection. Recipients never knows of the action unless they anticipate email that never arrives.

People also are nervous about receiving maliciously coded texts too, a tactic known as smishing. Social posts with links are treated more suspiciously now, too. And today’s workforce, now comprised mainly of Millennials and Gen X employees, is none too happy to receive unsolicited paper promotions sent through costly, fossil-fuel-dependent postal services.

Focus as much on the messaging as the medium

Secure websites and advertising on apps remain a popular conduit to reach target audiences. Here, the emphasis is on secure—make sure the online presences you control provide visitors a safe, transparent experience.

And an accurate one, featuring truthful, tactful information that draws attention from qualified buyers. If you are a startup without a client base, don’t fake it—let people know who you or your leaders helped prior to founding the company. If you have a stale customer base, offer free or reduced products or services to select users in exchange for honest endorsements or testimonials.

There are plenty of ways to drum up genuine interest for a company’s goods. Thought leadership papers, webcast or podcast sessions and sponsorships, contributing articles in influential publications either as a subject matter expert or the actual author, influencer partnerships. Periodically audit your web content and social posts to make sure information is accurate and conveyed in a way that draws interest, not ire. This should be done quarterly or monthly depending on a site’s metrics. Language is constantly evolving and it’s important that you continuing to speak in the argot of your industry.

Again, don’t make up for shortcomings by fabulizing. The truth has a way of catching up to those who deceive—that is if cybercriminals don’t catch them first.

Thank you for reading this,

Anne