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Cyber Crisis Communications: Your Game Plan

Incident Response / June 18 , 2024

A successful crisis response requires clear and effective communication. Nowhere is this truer than in cybersecurity. In the event of a data breach, hack, or ransomware incident, companies should not only be prepared to react to the event but, importantly, to share the news in a manner that will keep impacted parties calm and informed.

We asked Hillary Popejoy, director of marketing and public relations of ASSET360, a division of Clark Hill, about the most critical steps in cyber crisis communications, how to build a cyber attack communications plan, the best crisis response strategies, and how organizations can start preparing today for any cyber incident that will require public explanation.

What are the crucial items organizations need to have prepared when it comes to cyber-related crisis communications?

In crisis management, preparation is everything—especially when dealing with cyber incidents. Every organization, big or small, needs a robust crisis communications plan. This blueprint is key to navigating a crisis from detecting an incident to its resolution and a post-incident review.

However, having a plan isn’t enough. It’s critical that your team, especially key decision-makers and communications personnel, know the plan inside and out. Regular training is essential to ensuring everyone is familiar with their roles and can respond swiftly and effectively under pressure.

Organizations should also periodically test their plan through simulated scenarios such as a ransomware attack. Like other tabletop exercises, these drills help pinpoint weaknesses in your plan, allowing for necessary adjustments. These drills should mirror realistic threats that could impact your organization’s operations and reputation.

In today’s fast-paced digital world, where information spreads faster than ever, effective communication across all platforms is vital. This means having the credentials and ability to post on these channels and knowing the best practices for each platform to communicate appropriately while safeguarding your organization’s image during a crisis.

How can organizations ensure their response to a cybersecurity crisis is simultaneously rapid, factual, and transparent?

In any crisis, the speed and accuracy of an organization’s response can significantly influence its impact. To do this, organizations should focus on a few key practices:

  1. Act quickly and acknowledge what you can. The first step is acknowledging the situation. Even if all the details aren’t clear, you should communicate your awareness of the issues and commitment to resolving them. Early acknowledgment helps maintain trust and reassures stakeholders that the issue is being addressed.
  2. Prioritize accuracy over speed. While it’s important to act quickly, verifying the accuracy of the information shared is paramount. It’s better to take extra time to confirm facts than to risk sharing potentially incorrect information. Misinformation can damage credibility and complicate crisis management efforts. Always validate information before releasing it, even if that means admitting to not having all the answers yet.
  3. Designate a spokesperson. Train and assign a designated spokesperson to manage communications during a crisis. This ensures a unified and coordinated response, presenting a single, consistent voice during a crisis.
  4. Provide regular updates. Keep stakeholders updated as the situation evolves. Regular updates on new developments and ongoing efforts demonstrate transparency and help manage public perception. Even if there is no new information, communicate this to show continued engagement and control.
  5. Learn and adapt. Actively monitor feedback from stakeholders and the public. Use this information to adjust real-time communication strategies, improving your response’s effectiveness.

What strategies should organizations employ to ensure effective crisis management team activation and coordination across different departments and with outside vendors and business partners during a cyber crisis?

Organizations should establish clear roles and responsibilities for each department so everyone knows what is expected of them during a crisis. Integrating efforts between key departments such as IT, legal, public relations/communications, and management is also vital. These departments must work in concert, not in silos, sharing information and strategies to present a unified response. Regular coordination meetings help synchronize these efforts, facilitating a more organized and effective response to the crisis.

How can organizations tailor their crisis communications to effectively address the concerns of different stakeholders?

In crises, it’s essential to understand and address the specific concerns of different stakeholders. To do this effectively, organizations must first identify who their stakeholders are—ranging from employees and customers to investors and regulatory bodies—and understand what matters most to them. This allows organizations to tailor their communications appropriately. For instance, customers may need reassurance about the safety of their personal data, while a board or investors may be more concerned about the impact on the company’s financial health. By addressing these concerns directly and in a manner that resonates with each group, organizations can maintain trust and minimize panic, enhancing the overall effectiveness of their crisis response.

How should organizations assess their response to a cyber crisis? What steps can they take to enhance their preparedness for future incidents?

Reflection is key. Organizations should review and audit their response and identify opportunities for improvement.

  1. Review with key players. After resolving the crisis, conduct an audit of your communications to evaluate the effectiveness of the response and any communication breakdowns.
  2. Document lessons learned. Create a report documenting what worked, what didn’t, and why.
  3. Update crisis response plans: Based on the lessons learned, update your cyber crisis communication plan. This includes refining communication protocols and response strategies.

Don’t let your organization be caught without a cyber crisis communication plan when an incident occurs. NetDiligence’s Breach Connect Plan is a turnkey solution designed to help your organization coordinate its response to a cyber threat. Reach out today to start your free trial!

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