How online brand protection is adapting to new threats from the dark side Chrissie Jamieson is VP Marketing at MarkMonitor The protection of brands online has never been a more critical necessity, with losses to global businesses hit by fraudsters and criminals estimated at $323 billion during last year alone. Threats now assail brands from many directions and by various methods, facilitated by the proliferating number of social media platforms, the increasing sophistication of cyber criminals, and of course, advances in technology. It is highly unlikely that this will change in the future, meaning that as threats evolve, businesses will have to adapt and respond accordingly. Reassuringly, there is already plenty of evidence that brands can – and are – realigning their capabilities so they can negotiate today’s minefield of potential threats and emerge unscathed and successful on the other side. Important new research offers insight into how organisations are adapting. In the 2018 The Future of Online Brand Protection — Threats, Trends and Business Impact Report, 600 marketing decision makers from a cross-section of industries, in six different countries, were polled about their online brand protection strategies. When compared with similar research in 2017, it is clear that the importance of having a plan in place to counter the threats and mitigate risk is increasingly recognised by brands. Whereas in 2017 64% of companies had an online brand protection strategy in place, in 2018 the figure rose to 79%. Awareness is a catalyst for collaboration This welcome change could be the product of a heightened awareness around the cybersecurity threats, as almost two-thirds of respondents (72%) said that online brand protection gained more attention within their organisations following a general increase of focus on cybersecurity. A further 82% were clear that brand protection would change over the coming year to include new threats from cybersecurity and fraud. Aside from the influence of the threats, the research shows that the nature of online brand protection is also changing, with greater collaboration between departments, including involvement in the formation and deployment of strategies. In the past, online brand protection was largely down to the marketing department who, when necessary, would seek assistance from their legal colleagues. Today, however, multiple departments are assisting, including: IT security and risk (in 55% of companies); marketing (44%); brand communications (38%) and legal (37%). More involvement from the top team As attacks on the integrity of brands proliferate, coming from more angles and making a significant impact on the business, the entire question of brand protection rises up the agenda for the board of directors. This is reflected in the research with three-in-ten boards (30%) now involved in the formulation and implementation of brand protection strategies. This is a promising start, but there needs to be more – a fact recognised by the 46% of respondents who agreed that greater involvement from their board of directors was inevitable. The realisation is growing that online brand protection is such a serious threat it needs to be more than a mere tick-box discussion item at monthly meetings. Board members must take an active role and ensure that once a strategy has been identified, it is followed through by all other areas of the business. The fact is brands are being threatened on multiple fronts, from counterfeiting to online fraud (like phishing or business email compromises). As a result, an online brand protection strategy needs engagement from all departments, and needs to cover the multiple threats. The collaborative approach to brand protection extends to IT as well. Another 46% of respondents said they foresaw greater engagement from IT and security teams. It can hardly be more important for these two teams, which often have overlapping responsibilities, to have direct input into the implementation of brand protection tactics. In fact, such is the state of change with regard to brand protection within organisations that 90% of brands surveyed believe the responsibility for it will change within the next year, with more involvement anticipated from the board and IT and security teams. It is also interesting just how customer-focused businesses have become in their protection strategies – reflected in the 46% of respondents who said keeping their consumers safe is the primary focus of their policies, while 84% said that consumer behaviour now plays a major role in determining how their programme is prioritised. How important is technology in brand protection? There are many paths to effective brand protection – from specialists who develop solutions, to businesses that address the issue in-house, to third-party providers. Whichever methodology it is, success can come down to the right technology. As the nature of threats changes, and counterfeiters, pirates and cyber criminals become more cunning, brands dare not risk failing to update their knowledge of shape-shifting risks and threats. With that in mind, how do organisations plan to allocate their budgets for brand protection? Almost a quarter of respondents said they would spend most of it on new technology. In fact, 85% of brands have incorporated new technologies into protection strategies, including artificial intelligence (39%), big data (37%), machine learning (33%), and the dark web (25%). The likes of AI, machine learning and big data analytics can be used to reconnoitre the threat landscape in a more efficient and effective way, giving brands a more front-foot approach to threats, especially concerning fraud. When it comes to the dark web, while it may not be a new landscape, it is becoming more of a focus for threat-monitoring. The dark web is an illicit market place for physical goods and services, along with confidential data and intellectual property. The data that can be found here and the goods on offer can inflict serious damage on a brand. Proactively monitoring this area of the web ensures brands are better able to mitigate risk and neutralise threats. Blowing the whistle on all infringements According to the research, two-thirds of brands say infringement has increased in the last year. It is the omni-channel landscape that presents a greater threat; the bigger the presence across channels, the bigger the risk. Almost two-thirds of respondents said they believed infringement had increased in the last year. To understand more about the scale of the threat, respondents were asked which of the channels used for brand communications had been subjected to infringement and abuse over the last 12 months. Websites experienced the highest levels of infringements (45%), followed by email (42%), social media channels (34%), mobile apps (31%) and online marketplaces (27%). It turns out that more than half (55%) of respondents said they are paying more attention to their domain name strategy and managing it more actively because of the strength of the prevailing cyber threat. A further 14% said they intended changing their approach. It is not just for security reasons that domain management needs to form a key part of an overall brand protection strategy, but also to maximise portfolio values and keep costs down. Because of this it is important to select the best approach, depending on the needs of the brand and whether a proactive or defensive stance is more suitable. When it comes to cybercrime methodologies, the vast majority of businesses surveyed had experienced phishing attacks in the last 12 months (86%). This included brand impersonation websites, malware distribution, scams compromising business email, SMS text (smishing) and phone impersonation (vishing). Increasingly, the research shows, brands regard activity dark web activity as posing a genuine threat. More than half of respondents (56%) took this view, while a further 61% said they were actively monitoring dark web intelligence for emerging threats and brand-related activity. How brand protection will evolve If one thing is certain it is that the smarter brands will grasp how they need to improve protection of all the precious IP and years of work and nurturing that go into the creation of a successful brand. Almost six-in-ten decision-makers (59%) believe that the importance of having a brand protection strategy will grow over the next five years. In terms of the likely shape of future threats, the finger was pointed at social media as the most probable source of trouble, with phishing and unauthorised websites not so very far behind. Apps, which are currently seen as a danger by more than two-fifths of respondents, are viewed as having the greatest potential to increase in risk as time unfolds. It is also apparent that while brands will invest in recruiting skilled personnel to bolster their brand protection efforts and to defend them from phishing and domain threats, nearly a quarter will look to new technologies. Conclusion Online brand protection is critical to the health of a business. The consequences of brand abuse, fraud and misrepresentation can be dire for a company’s reputation, and ruin the trust that customers place in it. The effects on the bottom line will inevitably be extremely deleterious. As the avenues of attack open to fraudsters, thieves and unscrupulous rivals become more numerous, brand protection is becoming a critical necessity that can make the difference between success and failure. Success will depend on the way organisations adapt how they tackle threats, using more advanced technology in the cyber sphere as part of a company-wide initiative that is led and overseen from the very top of each organisation.

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... smarter brands will grasp how they need to improve protection of all the precious IP and years of work and nurturing that go into the creation of a successful brand

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