Organizations face threats in today's information landscape, from cyberattacks to disinformation campaigns intended to manipulate perception and damage reputations. On a recent episode of Weber Shandwick’s “Cybersecurity Unplugged” podcast, experts Wasim Khaled, Peter Duda, and Ethan Bauley discuss an emerging “attack surface” known as narrative attacks and how organizations can prepare their defenses. 

What are narrative attacks?

Wasim Khaled, co-founder and CEO of Blackbird.AI, said narrative attacks are coordinated efforts to deliberately shape perceptions and beliefs about a target, whether a person, place, product, policy, or company. The goal is to manipulate how people see the target entity, ultimately causing harm to finances, reputation, or public trust. 

These attacks take many forms across digital ecosystems and media networks using an array of threat actors and trade crafts borrowed from cyber warfare, activism movements, and even nation-state information operations. The resulting campaigns corrode targets slowly over time rather than singular “fake news” events. The perpetrators are becoming increasingly sophisticated, especially with new AI tools synthesizing fake audio, video, and other content.  

Who do narrative attacks target? 

As Ethan Bauley, a Senior Principal at Myriant, part of the Weber Shandwick Collective, explained— narrative attacks can impact companies across every function, from security to marketing to operations to finance. Threat actors seek societal divisions to exploit and try relentlessly to generate news cycles that spark public outcry. And they “ping” media networks constantly searching for vulnerabilities.

While narrow disinformation operations have clear motives and targets, Bauley noted counter-narratives using facts framed against an entity are more common and detrimental, using true information to fuel misperceptions. Companies must understand both threats.  

Preparing defenses across the enterprise 

Fending off false narratives requires enterprise-wide coordination and collaboration, agreed the experts. Communications teams can’t tackle disinformation alone. Chief Security Officers (CSOs) are realizing reputational threats fall into intelligence gaps, demanding new data and partnerships to assess risks. Crisis response workflows now account for synthetic content that spreads at scale. Tabletop exercises help leaders across functions game out scenarios exposing vulnerabilities.

Blackbird.AI’s Khaled explained that the most resilient organizations ended infighting over ownership of these issues and instead shared intelligence, budgets, and regular touchpoints across security, comms, finance, operations, and technologies. The problem requires understanding societal dangers and data and technology solutions. 

Ongoing risks in 2024

Looking ahead, the environment appears primed for threat acceleration. Weber Shandwick’s President of Global Crisis and Issues, Peter Duda, noted that today’s information ecosystems intrinsically feed off emotional division and engagement while AI development progresses. Major events in 2024, like the general election, could see narrative attacks increase by orders of magnitude. No executive can no longer claim immunity, requiring proactive investment in early detection and measurement capabilities before threats metastasize.

While once a black swan concern, disinformation, and false narratives now represent a routine business risk requiring cross-functional coordination. Leaders must bring humility to understand vulnerabilities and weave this new reality into enterprise risk management and daily decision-making. Identifying intelligence gaps, running tabletop exercises, and installing appropriate monitoring tools provide foundations to build resilience. But continued vigilance will remain essential as risks continue escalating across societal, technological, and geopolitical fronts.

To learn more about how Blackbird.AI can help you in these situations, contact us here.

BLACKBIRD.AI protects organizations from narrative attacks created by misinformation and disinformation that cause financial and reputational harm. Powered by our AI-driven proprietary technology, including the Constellation narrative intelligence platform, RAV3N Risk LMM, Narrative Feed, and our RAV3N Narrative Intelligence and Research Team, Blackbird.AI provides a disruptive shift in how organizations can protect themselves from what the World Economic Forum called the #1 global risk in 2024.