Barbarians at Our Gates: Cybercrime, Security, and the Media
In The Ballad of Pretty Boy Floyd, Woody Guthrie famously wrote, "Some will rob you with a six gun, and some with a fountain pen." And if he were writing today he might add: Some will rob you with a bit or a bite or a cursor or a pixel -- or a password breach.
When Thomas Hoey called me to talk about Portal Guard, a product that provides such arcane services as self-service password reset education and two-factor authentication education, the first thing that struck me was the irony. Here was someone whose specialty is internet security reaching out to someone whose specialty is OAO (online audience optimization). While the rest of us are working to bring the good guys in to our sites and keep them there, Hoey's job is to keep the bad guys out.
The second thing that occurred to me was this: We need this guy. Cybercrime, privacy, and security are in the forefront of our minds these days, with everyone from Google to the NSA watching what we do online. And those are just the good guys. Factor in the bad guys and the picture gets pretty dark, pretty fast.
When our print world began its migration online, junk mail acquired an ugly new name: spam. And while from a consumer point of view spam is something we all try to avoid, from a media point of view even a perception of spamming must be avoided at all costs. Because, as every publisher knows, while content is king, spam is his evil brother lying in wait to bring down the kingdom.
Spam, security, and cybercrime are three intertwined topics that will come into sharp focus this fall when Brian Krebs comes out with his new book, Spam Nation. Unsavory as the concept of spam might have been in the past, it seems as if it's about to get a whole lot worse.
Spam Nation, Krebs tells us, unfolds on a backdrop of "a long-running turf war between two of the largest sponsors of spam." But, according to Krebs, it goes way beyond that: "Spam Nation isn't just about junk email; most of the entrepreneurs building and managing large-scale spam operations are involved in virtually every aspect of cybercrime for which there is a classification, including malware development, denial-of-service attacks, identity theft, credit card fraud, money laundering, commercial data breaches and extortion."
Privacy and anonymity were the internet's first myths. The idea that we could pour everything we had into the endless world of cyberspace and come out untouched was seductive, but ultimately untrue. And dangerous.
We know now that while there are no humans standing at the Apple or Amazon newsstand, waiting to take our money or evaluate our reading choices, our entire identities can be stolen through one swift attack on either site. We know that the fact that we keep our company's information in an invisible vault that can be accessed anywhere means that a single hacker's click could cause us to lose it all. And we know that whole industries can be thrown into chaos because of a single chink in our armor.
Marketing requires us to collect information from the people with whom we interact and use that information to build our audiences on and offline. Privacy concerns, potential liability, and the relationship of trust we share with our audience require us to guard and protect that audience. And Spam Nation promises to show us what the consequences of failing to do so might be.
Linda Ruth, as president of PSCS Consulting (www.PSCSConsulting.com), offers communication companies worldwide the keys to magazine launches, search engine optimization and audience development online and at retail. She is a pioneer in the fields of Online Audience Optimization (OAO) and gamification for content publishers. Her books, "Internet Marketing for Magazine Publishers" ; "How to Market your Newsstand Magazine"; and "Secrets of SEO for Publishers" can be found on Amazon. Find her online at Google Plus, Magazine Dojo, LinkedIn, and Twitter @Linda_Ruth.