Communications Key to Combating Data Breaches

older woman with silver hair and glasses looking intently at a computer, not smiling

“Cybersecurity” has become quite the buzzword, whether due to threats of election fraud or headlines about the SolarWinds hack. A security breach is something company leaders fear but are rarely prepared to defend against.

The reality is this: neither company size, public institution, technical advancement nor valuation make any one organization more at risk from attack than the next. Human error causes the vast majority of data breaches.

That means, communications teams play a significant role in not only creating awareness but causing activation and behavior change to ensure personal and corporate data remains protected, whether working at home or in the office. 

Cue Joe Stunkard, Vice President of Corporate Communications at Forcepoint. Joe comes from a lengthy background in public relations and employee communications. Prior to joining Forcepoint in 2019, Joe worked at Computer Associates (CA), until it was acquired, and for IBM (for nearly 21 years). Not to say that was his first experience with an acquisition, as he’s managed communications for over 100 large and mid-sized company acquisitions. However, looking back on all these communications, Joe would argue that cybersecurity messages were the most delicate of all.

“Cybersecurity is front-page news. Several years ago, cybersecurity was IT’s issue,” said Joe. “Today, it’s a boardroom issue.”

“Today, [cyber security] is a boardroom issue.”

Joe Stunkard, Vice President of Corporate Communications at Forcepoint

The Pandemic’s Impact on Security

COVID-19 has changed how companies need to think about cybersecurity. “Before COVID, companies largely followed traditional security designs. Secure the datacenter. Put walls up around the perimeter,” said Joe. “Now, there is no perimeter.”

Forcepoint not only shifted into overdrive to protect its clients, but they also had to completely rethink how to protect their networks and data as employees began working from home. “It started at the top. Our CEO joked that if you asked CIO’s what it would take to secure your entire workforce remotely, the answer would be ‘give me a year and $10 million dollars’,” said Joe. “But we didn’t have those luxuries. We had to shift overnight.”

Joe and his team started with a partnership between communications, human resources and IT.  “The majority of security breaches happen through impersonation, essentially cloning an employee’s security clearance,” said Joe. “This can easily happen simply by clicking the wrong links from external sources or leaving your system unprotected after you’ve stepped away. Once in, hackers can hop around the network.”

From Top-Down, to Top-of-Mind

Joe knew that getting the CEO out there internally and externally was key to success. However, externally, it was also important not to appear to be “ambulance chasing.” Rather, what advice could they provide to customers to help them manage through what was truly unprecedented?

Internally, the challenges of remote work made spreading the message to the global employee base all the more delicate.

 “Within a week of shutting down our offices, we had a global all-hands call. More than 2,000 employees attended live with others later watching the replay,” said Joe. “We followed these up with more regional “roadshows” to keep the dialog about priorities, including personal and company safety, including economic, top of mind.”

Forcepoint also changed how it engaged with clients and external stakeholders, moving all of its engagements and outreach to digital platforms. “The environment lent itself to elevating our brand to better reach the C-suite. We had started a partnership with The Wall Street Journal pre-COVID and our CEO and I attended the World Economic Forum in January 2020 shortly before COVID completely altered how business, marketing and communications was done,” said Joe.

“Approximately seven weeks later, everything shifted to digital. We doubled-down on our WSJ partnership, producing content on securing your workforce and data, producing customer videos, and so on.”

This proved to be effective in reaching customers. “We led a session at the World Economic Forum with 60 CEOs, which enabled us to create articles and videos that could be used with other CEOs and our own employees,” said Joe. “We kept the momentum going with additional outreach through fireside chats, including Michael Rogers, the former US Navy admiral who served as commander of the US Cyber Command and director of the National Security Agency, which allowed us to continue to reach the same audiences.”

Lessons Learned

Joe reiterated how important it is to work in an environment where communication is valued. “I’ve seen what can happen to organizations that don’t integrate communications into the highest levels of the business,” said Joe. “And it can lead to senior executives making decisions without fully understanding the impact they have on the marketplace or workforce. I’ve told leaders many times that communications should be brought in at the beginning of planning for transitions and acquisitions so that we can provide counsel and not be asked to just wordsmith a Q&A. As communications leaders, we have the unique ability to project reactions to different scenarios to shape decisions.”

I’ve seen what can happen to organizations that don’t integrate communications into the highest levels of the business,” said Joe. “And it can lead to senior executives making decisions without fully understanding the impact they have on the marketplace or workforce.

Joe Stunkard, Vice President of Corporate Communications at Forcepoint

Joe has been spending most of his time on internal communications these days. “With so many of us working from home, it’s even more important to find ways to keep everyone connected and feeling like the company truly cares about their wellbeing,” said Joe. “It’s a mark of success to hear from senior leadership that they are well prepared to impact culture, which drives business results.”

Joe’s story reminds us of how important it is for communications leaders to face crises swiftly and confidently, arm managers with strategic comms, oh, and to make sure our employees change their passwords often!