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Technology Magazine In Depth

What role will marketers play in the cyber conflicts of tomorrow?


By The Drum | Editorial

February 26, 2019 | 11 min read

For The Drum magazine's special cyberwarfare issue, we asked marketers around the world what place their industry and their peers will have in a world where words are weaponised and smart communication is replacing combat as a way of warfare.

nicole yershon

Nicole Yershon, chief executive and founder, Nicole Yershon Collective

It’s certainly not a simple question. To start with, the role of the marketer has to be broadened into digital anyway – automation, AI (machine learning), robotics and so on – and the minute that happens security goes right to the top of the agenda.

It’s already happening, with dramatic learning curves required in every sense around GDPR and personal data, and the focus on keeping firewalls on increasingly special/high-value data.

This data, and the insights being harvested from it, are what differentiates a business from its competitor.

As a generalization, the current type of marketer will still be doing their traditional day job, passing this type of thought and work to another department, perhaps to those working within IT under the chief technology officer or chief digital officer.

They are not measured in knowing everything, but do they know the right people who know more than them and connect the dots to solve the right problem?

I’ve made it my mission to know all these people in these spaces, because that is my day job.

The future marketer has to be a smart warrior, because it really is a war out there.

darren thomson

Darren Thomson, chief tech officer EMEA, Symantec

Question everything. Data is the lifeline of marketers. Customer information is how marketers get their job done. Data marketers now need to question the validity of holding personal information: do we really need this?

The stuff we really need we should have, and we should make sure to protect it. But I fear that with a lot of campaigns being put together, or new marketing systems that are coming together, you see an awful lot of data that is not necessary to the function of marketing.

I would encourage marketers to really question the use of data. Do we need this data? How long do we need to keep it here? Do we need this data here and do we need it over there as well? I think that would go a long way to helping the security situation, even if you end up with less data. There would be less ‘attack surface’ available.

Prior to GDPR and things like that, we were in a world where it was just so easy to collect and store data that we just do it naturally now. That assumption needs to change; we need to question whether we should really be storing it. If we do really need it, fine, but I bet that two-thirds of the data we collect we don’t need.

stephen cox

Stephen Cox, software developer and architect, Secureauth

Marketers are the way that a company gets the word out. It’s the first step in engaging a potential customer, and they have a big place in that grand discussion.

They’re the first engagement point for a customer, so they need to discuss cybersecurity in a way that is genuine and true to the capabilities of the product, and have a meaningful conversation about the impact.

james whatley

James Whatley, strategy partner, Digitas

What role will marketers play in cyberwarfare conflicts of tomorrow? One of the many problems with the marketing industry at the moment – outside of inequality, representation and a general obsession with the new and novel – is marketers concerning themselves with everything but marketing.

‘What’s my TikTok strategy?’ ‘What will my brand sound like in 2020?’ ‘Quick, pivot to millennials!’

When I consider the question of what role marketers will play in cyberwarfare conflicts of tomorrow, I very quickly get to the answer: ‘Naff all, and don’t waste time thinking about it’.

Marketers should focus on marketing. Between a decent chief technology officer, data protection officer and an IT department that actually knows what it’s doing (and on this point, there are more than you think and they get a rough deal at the best of times), no marketer should play any role in cyber conflicts of the future and shouldn’t waste time worrying about it either.

If you want to do cyberwarfare, go get a job with the government. You’re a marketer, do marketing.

rob norris

Rob Norris, EMEIA head of cybersecurity, Fujitsu

If you consider the access marketers have to adults and older generations of digital users, then the more they can do in terms of making people aware that a cybersecurity problem is here, the better.

They can let those users know it’s not going to go away, but that they can easily protect themselves.

I think marketers have a big part to play in this – certainly in getting the message across that if users did some of the basics then that would help better protect not only themselves, but also the country as

a whole.

I see marketers as a positive, basically. As long as they are getting out the right message in terms of cybersecurity, and the positive things that can be done around it, I think it has to be positive.

dave goddard

David Goddard, global programmatic strategy, BBC Global News

Fake news is an issue we take seriously at BBC Global News. Everyone agrees it’s a danger – to politics, to human rights, to social, cultural and political unity – but it’s also a danger to brands.

When we talk about brand safety, it’s easy to see the dangers of fake news as external forces threatening a brand. However, while many things are outside our control, some of these threats are the result of our own actions.

And, when a brand chooses to play by the rules of the fake news world, it leaves itself susceptible to the threats it entails too.

Marketers can and should take an active role in cleaning up the ecosystem. The independent players spreading fake news and disinformation are motivated by the revenue return these sensationalist fake headlines are delivering, and that return is from advertising revenue.

To help fight the spread of fake news and disinformation, marketers can start by cutting out the fraud. This can be done with one simple step: ensure you or your partners are buying Ads.txt-verified traffic to certify it is fraud-free.

The next stage would be to become curious about where, and around what content, ads are running. This can be done simply by requesting transparency from the team or the partners that are buying the media. If the media owner is not renowned for high-quality, professional and trusted output, then you need to start asking questions. Fake news and disinformation is not good for brands, it’s not good for users and it’s not good for the industry.

Marketers should know it’s easy to hold themselves to higher standards, to define their brands against fake news and, by doing so, effectively engage the world’s most valuable brands.

bryan rasch

Bryan Rasch, chief innovation officer, GMR Marketing

Our need for continual advancement creates a dichotomy between marketing innovation and data security – often creating situations ripe for cyber-attacks. Marketers’ growing dependence on petabytes of consumer data to drive hyper-personalization means their role in the security of sensitive consumer information is critical. Our only hope is that marketers, IT and security professionals work closely to drive innovation in marketing practices, while ensuring that the integrity and security of the data is at the forefront of all decisions.

Without this high level of diligence, marketers risk losing the many benefits big data has created to find, engage and relevantly communicate in ways never thought possible. To ensure this future, marketers must focus on implementing strategies that treat all consumer data with the respect and reverence it deserves.

Many cyber-attacks are focusing on marketing data because of the lack of investment in data security for marketing departments compared to financial data. The solution could be simple: use marketing dollars to build the infrastructure and processes needed to create hyper-secure consumer data warehouses, and embrace the role of security professionals in architecting marketing solutions, which – with the right investments – can be secure and impactful at the same time.

steve goldberg

Steve Goldberg, director of cultural strategy, Sparks & Honey

Many historians argue that the aircraft carrier was the most significant military tool of the 20th century. The ability to carry an air force to any point in the world and project power was what separated regional power from global power.

‘Cyber’ or information warfare is undoubtedly its 21st-century counterpart, but one that has leveled the playing field. In cyberwarfare, it’s not just nation states that can wield power – individuals, ideologies, businesses and even machines themselves can take up arms of equal scale.

Wittingly or unwittingly, marketers will be participants in these information-based conflicts. As arbiters of vast sums of consumer data, marketers are a crucial source of intelligence and access, as we saw in Cambridge Analytica’s targeting of Facebook users who ‘liked’ heritage brands such as LL Bean and Wrangler.

This type of unwitting participation foreshadows what the future holds: our interconnected world of commerce, personal information and infrastructure will sweep everyday people and business into conflicts in ways that traditional weapons or tactics never have before.

It is difficult to say how marketers can defend themselves against becoming part of this arms race. The clandestine, amorphous nature of information-based warfare means the possibilities for exploitation are everywhere.

This leaves marketers with three choices, each bad: hide from it, actively fight it or try to ignore it. It’s a question of moral imperative, and one with no clear answer.

humberto cruz

Humberto Cruz, head of digital, Havas Media

I was able to attend to a conference at SXSW in 2018 called Today’s Cyberwarfare Looks a Lot Like Advertising, and it appears ‘malvertising’ is the next cyberwarfare modern weapon. And the reality is, there’s no easy defense against malvertising.

Adblockers work, but more and more publishers are blocking access to their pages when they detect a blocker.

Users must either pay a subscription for no adverts, accept they cannot view the page they want or receive the ads that could potentially contain malware or malicious links.

That’s why the role that marketers will play in all this takes more relevance, by working as ‘spotlighters’ with greater responsibility and perhaps even legal liability, while technologically connected to corresponding governmental authorities.

Projects such as Google Shield should be taken as examples and deployed as standard by governments through organizations such as IAB or DAA across the world.

On the other side, content checks should be performed by ad networks (on both ad units and landing pages), along with greater active monitoring, background checking on publishers and legal contracts with high fines if the content is not secure.

Due to the speed of transactions and the sheer volume of advertisements, you can believe there is no real-time monitoring by humans. However, technologies such as blockchain, which is already being used to improve transactions in the digital media buying space, could definitely generate a better and significant change in this case.

With less accountability and global reach, nefarious forces are getting more effective at turning the web into a fight for our minds, undermining our security in the process.

As marketers, it’s our responsibility to connect the right dots to prevent and act in the middle of a cyber society era.

This feature first appeared in the cyberwarfare issue of The Drum magazine. In it, we take a look at the role of our industry in a world where humdrum technology and everyday communication have become weaponised, from our smart homes being hacked and our fridges held to ransom to fake news and deepfakes having far-reaching ramifications for global politics. You can get your copy here.

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