I pity the guys over at Computer Weekly. Following yesterday’s security breach by HMRC, they are no doubt being inundated with tenuous news-hijacking pitches from companies however vaguely connected to IT security and consumer data. Sympathies also to the PR folk whose advice not to bother has been ignored. Sometimes a rapid response online ad with a great image can cut through the noise – congrats to the guys at online back-up firm Total Recall for this effort.
Web 2.0 technologies are of course a double edged sword. When it comes to corporate communication the speed and reach of these new mediums can be harnessed just as easily to spread truth as misinformation. However, the growing adoption of social media channels is apparently leading to resurgence in Black PR. For those unfamiliar with the term it refers to individuals and companies with malicious intent using various techniques to attack or attempt to destroy an adversary’s reputation.
At Monday’s CIPR summer party I met Ivana Kalay a PR security expert who filled me in on the new dangers and vulnerabilities that many businesses face. Now Black PR is nothing new and the techniques it deploys are a standard part of the arsenal employed by political hactivists, whether trying to defend animal rights or battling the oil and pharmaceutical industries. What’s changed is that Web 2.0 apps make the implementation of these techniques so much easier and their implications more far reaching.
In her chilling but compelling article for Strumpette, Kalay sets out the main weak points of PR 2.0 – a perfect storm of hacking websites, hijacking news feeds and harnessing the power of search engines. The potential for RSS feeds to be subverted and false messages to be inserted is particularly worrying along with the use of splogging (spam blogging) to rapidly embed Black PR messages in millions of popular blogs. The power behind these attacks is their permanence with the false information virtually impossible to remove from search engines.
So what does this all mean, and how much of a threat does Black PR actually present? Well responsibility for prevention I would argue rests mainly with IT departments ensuring that corporate information channels are secure. However, this potential new threat also underlines the importance of blog and web monitoring – increasingly a PR function. Early detection of attacks will be critical in attempts to reduce their scope and impact. Thankfully attacks of this kind so far have been very rare so no need to panic (yet), but it would be naive to think that the PR implications will not be serious when the first big brand almost inevitably becomes a Black PR victim
PR Week is reporting that a number of UK PR agencies have been found to be flouting Wikipedia’s rules banning agencies from editing entries. The WikiScanner has detected that Financial Dynamics, Freuds, Finsbury and H&K have changed entries for clients ranging from Anne Diamond to Pizza Hut.
We will have to wait and see if Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales goes through with the threat he issued earlier this year to ban offending PR agencies from using the site. I still believe it’s unfair to impose a blanket ban on PR agencies from making edits whereas the CIA and the Vatican face no restrictions at all. Surely the point of the Wikipedia is that anything untrue/biased will simply be edited out by somebody else until a consensus is reached? If so why persist with this pointless ban?