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Digital Vandalism: Mitigate Risk Before It’s A Real Problem

Defined as defacing the digital assets of a company to cause nuisance or permanent damage, digital vandalism is a crime that happens because it’s possible and it’s on the rise with serious and permanent consequences. From simple attacks of websites, to hacking into water and sewage systems, changing lights, unlocking security doors in prisons and changing temperatures within closed spaces, vandals can target gas pipelines, power plants, high-end storefronts and blow up buildings if they felt like it. 

As more residential and commercial buildings become technologically “smart,” the more possible they become to facilitate these attacks. Unlike damaging physical property, digital vandals hack technology that create issues within the technology itself. From a single computer or an entire company — sending a political message on a website or altering masses of information on a database, destroying cyberspace is a digital vandal’s objective. Given the growth in advancement of technology and the adaptations of it across all sectors of the economy, the implications are huge.

The Morgan Stanley 2020 Global Wealth Management Report confirms that on their end, digital engagement across all channels of communication between investors and advisors has increased sevenfold and Zoom chats have now become essential tools of business. The same increase in the use of technology is seen across other industries as well.

Many companies have been characterized by their “savoir-faire” and contain a certain distrust of technology, data collection and CRM systems. The very nature of their business has historically opted for word-of-mouth and in-person interactions. However, as the world evolves, companies begin to understand that this also loses new and profitable opportunities for engagement with not only existing customers, but also the possibilities of attracting new ones.

So, as the market adapts new digital strategies and forms of communication, they must mitigate against the risk of digital vandalism.

Some examples:

The first digital vandalism crime can be traced back to 1998, when a British hacker under the nickname “JF” placed anti-nuclear text and images on about 300 different websites. In 2000, another British group called “Electrohippies” shutdown the World Trade Organization’s web site during the Seattle protests. 

In 2021, digital vandalism is even worse. 

In February 2021, an outdated version of Windows and a weak cybersecurity network allowed hackers to access a Florida wastewater treatment plant’s computer system and tamper with the water supply. A month later, another group of hackers called “Advanced Persistent Threat 69420” gained access to over 150,000 surveillance cameras inside hospitals, police departments, schools and 330 jail cameras with the ability to change release dates of inmates.

Mitigating risk:

From website hacks to opening doors in prison, digital vandalism poses a serious threat. The obvious answer on how to protect your assets is having resilient passwords and complex authentication systems. The more digital obstacles you can place to connect to servers and computers, the harder it is for vandals to get in. If you don’t, more serious issues can arise beyond financial and employee information being stolen.

The number of cybercrimes has vastly increased, and every industry from luxury retail to finance and government institutions must adapt their security to ensure that their data, information and passwords are safe from digital vandalism. It’s important to keep security systems in pace with digital advancements, if you are to protect the present and future.

As seen in the case of Kellogg, digital vandal’s created an unauthorized website that looked identical to the real website. They posted videos of the company’s mascot – Tony the Tiger – in videos inappropriate for children. Being a children targeted brand, this (even if temporarily) tainted the brand’s image and reputation. 

Notes is a collection of articles, analysis, in-depth research and thinking from our firm, published with the purpose of transmitting information, of all kinds, to protect our clients.