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Cybercrime and the Looming Digital Exploitation of the Government Affairs Sector

With growing frequency, there are well-publicized breaks in the data security of organizations that have been compromised on the cyber front.  From Watergate to WikiLeaks, the seismic impact of these digitally-driven crimes often rival the political, economic and personal fallout of those infamous events.  The consequences of these cyber break-ins often result in embarrassing data loss, malicious software that corrupts the company’s information technology networks, and ultimately a breach of public trust.

kstreet_cybercrimeIn 2016 the world is learning that no entity is immune to cybersecurity threats that can break the bounds of technological worries and become a full scale operational crisis.  Thus, whether your firm is a Fortune 500 corporation, a healthcare provider, or an obscure agency that doesn’t seek the spotlight, surviving today’s cyber-threat landscape requires vigilance and expertise.

Like legal firms and lawyers, today’s lobby shops and government relations professionals have a diverse portfolio of influential clients.  These clients are often newsmakers themselves, which puts the spotlight on those who serve their interests.  Additionally, many of these clients for which lobbyists advocate before elected government deal in highly sensitive or contentious areas of public policy. These distinctions of the advocacy world make government affairs and policy shops prime targets for cybercriminals, cyber-activists, as well as nation-state hackers.        

The most recent and notable example of a vast cybersecurity failure within the political realm is related to the notorious “Panama Papers.”  In this instance, a cyber hack perpetrated on the previously obscure law firm of Mossack Fonseca & Co., based in Panama, resulted in millions of leaked documents, the downfall of at least one head of state, and the apparent filtering of funds over a period of four decades. The full and complete ramifications of this cyber-related crime, which revealed the use of offshore shell companies, may not be fully realized for months.

Like the foreign legal firm connected to the “Panama Papers,” most lobby firms are in the small to medium sized enterprise range (SMB).  In many cases, firms in this arena are considered “soft-targets” by most cybercriminals, hackers and hacktivists.  Their SMB status may mean they often have less resources or have dedicated fewer provisions to cybersecurity-related issues than their larger corporate cousins.  As evidence to this, approximately one year ago journalists with the The Hill reported that progress toward strengthening cybersecurity within the government relations space was uneven throughout the industry.

Over the course of the past twelve months, cybersecurity concerns and harmful data breaches have only become more common as digital criminals have grown increasingly skilled and experienced with their techniques.  Thus, IT professionals have been heralding warnings in the halls of government and business alike that digital naiveté and wishful thinking will not stem the tide of these cyber-attacks.  It is clear, given the explosion of cyber-related criminal activity, that the government relations sector must heed these cautionary signs.

Not surprisingly, cybercrime presents itself in many evolving forms.  One of the most common and effective schemes are email phishing scams, which have been effectively utilized in the government relations sector.  Many SMB firms have fallen victim to these scams in recent months which have resulted in the personal information of their employees, and even client’s data, being stolen and broadcast within the digital sphere.  These emails appear to come from friendly sources, even known contacts with legitimate business endeavors.  When in fact, phishing emails are actually sent by hackers covertly requesting digital files or other sensitive and confidential information.  In a phishing scam, the unsuspecting target then innocently releases this information without realizing they are not actually communicating with a business official or partner.    

As in many cases, the best defense for the government relations sector is a sound offensive posture, which proactively addresses these cyber threats.  To actively aid in the prevention of your firm’s victimization and reputational downfall, lobby firms must develop a culture of cybersecurity awareness.  This awareness must culminate in a strong posture on at least four fronts.

These four mainstays of sound digital operation include: 1) Mitigating external risk via leading-edge technological expertise.  2) Minimizing internal exposure through effective training and procedural guidelines.  3) Securing the broader ecosystem of operations by vetting the IT networks of those companies with which one interacts.  4) Monitoring social and reputational threats posed by unscrupulous actors who counterfeit a firm’s operational brand.

While no technological network will ever be imperviously fortified into perpetuity, ongoing procedures and high-tech solutions can mold the government affairs sector into a profoundly hard target for cybercriminals.  Thus, with proper planning and trusted guidance, lobby firms can thrive in the age of digital exploitation and cyber threats with a skilled and trusted information technology partner by their side.

How shielded are you against cyber threats?

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