Communicating Whilst Under Cyber Attack


Karl Wiseman and Charlie Ansdell

Communicating Whilst Under Cyber Attack

Technology is critical to almost every aspect of our lives; consequently, the threat of cyber-attack is very real. Cyber-attacks occur all the time. One of the most common forms of attack is the DDoS, or DoS, which most public or well-known companies will face on a regular basis. However there are times that the attacks may be partially successful. Services may be disrupted and companies required to communicate with customers, partners and staff.

It is important to prepare a communications plan for such an attack. This blog will discuss what you need to know about cyberattacks and how to communicate during a cyber-crisis.

What is a DDoS, or DoS attack?

They are distinct but have the same impact – flooding a server with so many requests that it slows down or stops working altogether. A Denial of Service (DoS) attack involves a single computer and internet connection, while a Distributed Denial of Service (DDos) attack uses many computers and connections – with potentially more devastating results.  

In either case, it is essential to stress to customers a DoS or DDoS attack does not mean that any data or personal information has been compromised, factors that can severely damage a company’s reputation and business. Instead, it is merely that the server is temporarily overloaded by traffic.

The communications objectives

A large part of dealing with crises is deciding who your target audiences are and how you will address them. With a DDoS attack, the messaging should be one of reassurance. Points to consider:

  • Respond quickly.
  • Acknowledge that you are aware of the issue and are actively investigating.
  • Once you have an understanding of the situation, reassure customers and clients that there has been no breach, as far are you are aware, and that their data/money remains safe.
  • Apologise for the inconvenience of limited access to your service. Explain that it is due to an ongoing flood of traffic designed to block connections to your servers only - their information is secure. Customers can still contact the company using alternative means.
  • Transparent and clear, frequent communications will help put customers, investors and staff to be at ease: they will have trust in your statements and confidence that you are dealing with the situation.
  • Once the crisis is over, communicate what actions the company is taking to ensure that this can’t happen again.

You must have alternative means of communicating with your audiences if your website is inaccessible in a DDoS attack. Social media channels, such as Twitter can be used. Equally other channels, such as contact centre or branch/ office staff should be fully briefed (and you can always Tweet a hotline number).

It is imperative that you manage the media effectively. The media is an effective means of reaching target audiences and it’s important that they have your side of the story.

Finally there are many stakeholders who companies may have to deal with. These can include, but are not limited to, industry bodies, regulators, lawyers, insurers and shareholders.

Fail to prepare, and prepare to fail

In a crisis, time is of the essence. But ensuring that different stakeholders get coherent messages requires careful preparation and planning. It takes time.

The key to managing any crisis – be it a cyber-attack or not - is to prepare effectively. By preparing crisis manuals which clearly assign roles, responsibilities and actions in a crisis, along with pre-prepared scenarios, the response time for communicating in a crisis can be reduced.

In a world of instant digital communications, that extra time can make the difference between communications success and failure.