The digital threat landscape is rapidly evolving and organizations must be more than just diligent in protecting themselves from cyber attacks – they must become innovative. In 2021 alone the total cost of cyber crime reached nearly $6 trillion worldwide, with an explosion in ransomware attacks which could have dire consequences on critical supply chains. Notably, $78 billion in damages resulted from disinformation-based cyber attacks.
Over the course of the last decade, disinformation has cemented itself in the cybersecurity landscape. As cybersecurity risk grows around the world, executives like Chief Information Security Officers (CISOs) and Chief Communications Officers (CCOs) are forming innovative partnerships to mitigate the novel dangers of a new world of information disorder. Nontraditional partnerships between CISOs and CCOs are crucial to an organization’s ability to make necessary investments in the advanced technology solutions required to combat information-based cyber crime and to proactively respond to potential brand reputational harm.
THE ROLE OF THE CISO
Traditionally CISOs are an organization’s top cyber-defenders, tasked with ensuring the security and integrity of companies’ data, systems, and networks. The CISO is ultimately responsible for developing and managing comprehensive information security programs that protect an organization from threats within and without. These programs typically include procedures and policies designed to safeguard company communications, networks, and assets from malicious hackers, ransomware attacks, identity theft, data theft, viruses, phishing attempts, denial of service (DoS) attacks, and other forms of cyber crime. Maintaining proper organizational cybersecurity posture requires CISOs to stay current and up-to-date with cyber threat intelligence trends to identify new and emerging threats.
The CISO’s role has only grown more complex since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, during which companies were forced to rely on remote work to stay operational, thus exposing employees to new cyber risks and threat actors.
THE NEW CROSS-FUNCTIONAL ROLE OF CCOS
Chief Communications Officers (CCOs) create and manage messaging that supports their companies’ mission, vision, and values. CCOs are multifaceted, possessing a strong knowledge of public relations, marketing, branding, digital media strategies, current business trends, economic developments, and cultural changes. According to Karen Kahn, Chief Communications Officer at Hewlett-Packard, “[CCOs play] a critical role in advancing corporate reputation and helping the company to navigate business, economic, cultural, and societal trends.” By doing so, they influence how external audiences perceive organizations and their goals.
Increasingly, CCOs are becoming crucial to an organization’s cybersecurity posture in the face of a complex array of risks. As highlighted by the director of product management at Microsoft, ransomware attacks and disinformation campaigns such as defamation and extortion have the potential to inflict significant reputational damage and financial losses that can severely disrupt operations. The CCO is essential to mitigating such risks by communicating with stakeholders across all levels, including customers, employees, partners, investors, government, and other external parties.
WHERE CISO AND CCO ROLES CONVERGE
Richard Clarke, the former Special Advisor to the President on Cybersecurity, believes that cyber and reputational risks are inextricably linked. In his view, information operations are just as powerful–if not more so–than traditional cyber attacks. He believes that even rudimentary disinformation campaigns can harm individual organizations and potentially impact the market as a whole. To Clarke, cyber and information operations serve as the "right and left arms" for threat actors. Through information operations, attackers leverage overt and covert tactics to manipulate public opinion around an organization to further their own objectives. For example, individuals and companies may become victims of extortion when malicious actors threaten to release confidential or sensitive information if their demands are not met.
As organizations become more aware of the importance of information-driven risk, many of the threats that CISOs and CCOs face have converged. The collaboration of these two roles is now essential to address both cyber and narrative-driven threats effectively.
Consider, for example, the devastating 2021 Colonial Pipeline ransomware attack. This began when a hacker group known as DarkSide used an advanced form of malware to gain access to the Colonial Pipeline network, stealing 100 gigabytes of data within a two-hour window. This was compounded by subsequent ransomware that affected many computer systems, including billing and accounting. As one of the most significant publicly-disclosed cyber attacks against critical infrastructure in the US, customer trust and confidence in similar infrastructure plummeted, resulting in increased regulatory pressure. Companies ill-equipped to effectively respond to both the cyber and reputational risks of such an attack could face even more severe consequences.
The joint cyber and information landscape is vast, and the need for actionable intelligence has never been higher. Social media outrage in response to accusations against an organization can transform into crowdsourced hacktivism. Stolen data can result in malinformation campaigns whereby an organization’s internal communications are misrepresented in order to cause reputational harm. Risk also comes from within. It is increasingly common for disgruntled employees to become insider threats–resulting in leaks of company-sensitive information into the public domain–or to be planted intentionally by competitive entities as a form of corporate espionage. Monitoring the information landscape with traditional social media listening tools provides limited insight to CISOs tasked with proactively maintaining an organization’s cyber integrity; the aggregate nature of social media analytics does not allow for the exact identification of potential threats and threat actors. Instead, precision monitoring and analysis of the digital spaces where cyber and information-based threats emerge allow both CISOs and CCOs to foresee attacks as they are formulated and deploy an informed response as they unfold.
SAFEGUARD YOUR BRAND'S ATTACK SURFACE AND MITIGATE FUTURE RISKS
As they collaborate, CISOs and CCOs are in need of full-solution tools that can assist companies in navigating the new cyber threat landscape. An effective, next-generation intelligence platform must meet the challenges of an entirely new class of information-driven risk designed to manipulate stakeholder perception and spread fabricated controversy at incredible speed.
AI-powered and tailor-made for CISO-CCO collaboration, Blackbird.AI’s Constellation platform puts complex strategic insights on auto-pilot, defending against both reputational risk and cyber threats. Using Constellation, organizations can detect suspicious behaviors more quickly and accurately than ever before with cutting-edge technology, enabling organizations to react faster to a range of attacks with rapid access to AI-powered insights.
Organizations can now access high fidelity risk and narrative intelligence with Blackbird's Constellation dashboard and platform, allowing decision-makers to access accurate and actionable situational awareness. Constellation deconstructs conversational data sources down to narratives, actor networks, cohort affiliations, providing protection against threats from both the inside and outside of an enterprise organization. Additionally, businesses can gain insight into their brands’ reputations by analyzing social media and the deep web for signs of cyber attacks or attempts at disinformation campaigns, offering real-time protection for companies and helping them maintain their reputational integrity.
Blackbird.AI helps organizations detect and respond to threats that cause reputational and financial harm. Powered by their AI-Driven Narrative & Risk Intelligence Constellation Platform, organizations can proactively understand risks and threats to their reputation in real-time. Blackbird.AI was founded by a team of experts from artificial intelligence, and national security, with a mission to defend authenticity and fight narrative manipulation. Recognized by Forrester as a "Top Threat Intelligence Company," Blackbird.AI's technology is used by many of the world's largest organizations for strategic decision making
BALANCING THE COMPLEXITIES OF ONLINE DISCOURSE
While all these recommendations seem to be sound, the likelihood that these measures can be agreed upon and implemented are becoming increasingly less likely in the U.S. and around the world. In fact, we have been moving in the opposite direction. Platforms have begun to roll back access for research communities, decrease moderation around misinformation, or strike down moderation altogether in the name of freedom of expression. The very notion of banning a popular platform in the U.S. would have seemed unthinkable a few short years ago, with organizations like the ACLU strongly voicing that a ban on TikTok would violate the First Amendment.