March 6, 2023 By Michelle Greenlee 3 min read

Responding to a cyber incident requires teamwork across departments and disciplines. Technical incident responders must work to halt incoming attacks while the communications teams develop a public response. Clear communication is essential.

Communication strategies differ before and after a cyber incident. The way a company approaches both is as important as incident mitigation itself. How a company handles or ignores public disclosure of a cyber incident will significantly affect its reputation and future revenue. Marketing and public relations (PR) teams produce vital information for dissemination across interest groups, including company staff, investors, third-party vendors, customers and the public.

The importance of customer opinion

Consumers are not always aware when a company suffers a data breach. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) published a study that found consumers feel strongly when their personal data is affected. They tend to take on the blame, believing something they did was the reason their personal information was stolen. Consumers often misunderstand the extent of cyber incidents and how they might be affected. This is why it’s important to communicate clearly the next steps in cyber incident notifications.

Messaging around a cyber incident requires appropriate framing to ensure your information is received as intended. Working with the cyber incident response team, the PR team develops content to be used across communication channels. Ideally, the PR team works from a crisis communication template created during the incident response planning process. Pre-written templates can give your message the right words without the added stress of the overall situation.

Determining the content for cyber incident communications will depend on many factors, including data breach disclosure laws, regulatory requirements and the current state of the incident (or attack). The decision process for determining what to include quickly becomes complex without a framework to guide the way.

Developing a communications framework

A recent academic journal issue included a comprehensive study of past incident responses and the resulting outcomes to develop a communications framework for the unique complexity of crisis communications after a cyber incident. PR teams can set the tone of news coverage by delivering the message before, not after, the coverage begins.

Marketing and PR teams don’t formulate after-incident responses exclusively, of course. When the marketing team partners with the chief information officer (CIO) to develop internal marketing messaging around cybersecurity awareness, they become champions who advocate for better security practices for the entire organization. The CIO can explain how and why the company protects customer data so the communications teams can do what they do best.

An effective cybersecurity awareness program focuses on teaching the principles of risk awareness. This is far more effective than covering many attack types and outlining every acceptable behavior in each session.

Cybersecurity fatigue, a form of disengagement, is common among employees subjected to frequent and extensive cybersecurity training, often providing too much (or too technical) information. Fatigued employees are a risk to the organization. They tune out cybersecurity advice and may even change their behavior, believing cybersecurity isn’t their job after all. The methods and behaviors employees must remember throughout the day may become burdensome or overwhelming.

The tie between marketing and cybersecurity

The marketing team is uniquely positioned to build an effective cybersecurity awareness marketing and communications strategy that works with the company’s security awareness program without pushing employees to cybersecurity fatigue. The department can function as a messenger and an advocate at the same time. Internal communications that are interesting and engaging are more likely to leave an impression.

Cybersecurity is useful in external marketing and communications too. A company known for its dedication to security and excellent customer data handling can use these as points of pride in marketing materials. No company will be incident-free forever, but it is essential to communicate how you handle consumer data clearly.

The CIO is an important resource for PR and marketing departments when developing internal and external messaging. Collaboration between PR and the CIO can create a valuable feedback loop that helps the communications teams develop effective content for all audiences. By working in concert, cybersecurity and marketing departments can keep security an organizational priority.

More from Incident Response

Why federal agencies need a mission-centered cyber response

4 min read - Cybersecurity continues to be a top focus for government agencies with new cybersecurity requirements. Threats in recent years have crossed from the digital world to the physical and even involved critical infrastructure, such as the cyberattack on SolarWinds and the Colonial Pipeline ransomware attack. According to the IBM Cost of a Data Breach 2023 Report, a breach in the public sector, which includes government agencies, is up to $2.6 million from $2.07 million in 2022. Government agencies need to move…

X-Force Threat Intelligence Index 2024 reveals stolen credentials as top risk, with AI attacks on the horizon

4 min read - Every year, IBM X-Force analysts assess the data collected across all our security disciplines to create the IBM X-Force Threat Intelligence Index, our annual report that plots changes in the cyber threat landscape to reveal trends and help clients proactively put security measures in place. Among the many noteworthy findings in the 2024 edition of the X-Force report, three major trends stand out that we’re advising security professionals and CISOs to observe: A sharp increase in abuse of valid accounts…

What cybersecurity pros can learn from first responders

4 min read - Though they may initially seem very different, there are some compelling similarities between cybersecurity professionals and traditional first responders like police and EMTs. After all, in a world where a cyberattack on critical infrastructure could cause untold damage and harm, cyber responders must be ready for anything. But are they actually prepared? Compared to the readiness of traditional first responders, how do cybersecurity professionals in incident response stand up? Let’s dig deeper into whether the same sense of urgency exists…

Topic updates

Get email updates and stay ahead of the latest threats to the security landscape, thought leadership and research.
Subscribe today