I was told a scary story the other day. It seems that a top executive was told that he would have to send a large sum of money to an outfit in order to protect his company’s reputation. You see, his firm didn’t send the check, and this group promised to libel the company indiscriminately on the Web. This was a multi-million-dollar business with a good reputation and he clearly thought it could weather the storm and refused. Soon after, a large number of hostile websites, bad reviews and disparaging commentary appeared on the Web and this multi-million-dollar business came to a screeching halt.
Fortunately, it brought on board a cyber-defense service quickly and the hostile websites were taken down, comments mitigated or eliminated, and legal action was brought against the attacking entity.
As a side note: The judge on this case was threatened by the attackers and I understand there are now criminal charges pending on it. The initial cost to remedy was around $40K and a fraction of the millions of dollars of damages that had been driving the company out of business.
How I got to this story was through an email I received about two weeks ago. Some poor small business owner had been helping a couple of guys down on their luck by providing workspace in his store and letting them dismantle electronics for recycling (he was in the computer business). Upon discovering that these folks had started stealing from him, he kicked them out and they then retaliated by smearing his business, and posting a massive number of comments that suggested he was a pedophile. This stuff was showing up as top ranked on Google for searches on his business and name, impacting both his sales and his reputation significantly. He’d tried to get Google to help but, apparently, the company couldn’t even be bothered to talk to him, so he was asking me for help.
I knew of a few firms that appeared to have good reputations for handling this kind of a case and sent him a list. He thanked me and asked what he could do in return and I told him to get back to me with what resulted.
About a week or so later, I got an email saying he had gotten two bids — one for $10K and one for $2.5K — and used the cheaper firm (he couldn’t afford the $10K) and he couldn’t be more pleased with the result. Not only had the hostile material largely vanished, but he was actually getting more Web business than he had before. The company he used had both eliminated the threat and fixed some things he didn’t know were wrong, potentially more than covering the cost of the service.
I was on TWiT the week before last for the “Return of the Cranky Geeks” (we all got cranky on the new iPhone) and mentioned this guy’s story in passing. As a result, I got a ton of mail from folks asking for the name of the company (which I couldn’t remember on the show). It is called Cyber Investigation Services and it is a very unusual firm. I spent some time talking to its top Internet executive, Chris Anderson, to get the backstory, figuring that given how much I tend to piss off Apple users, I may eventually need to use the company myself.
Most reputation firms apparently were wrapped around folks who were specialists in gaming Google search results. This worked until about two years ago when Google figured out that a massive number of people were gaming its search results engine and it fixed it so it couldn’t be as easily gamed. The good news was you could better trust the search results; the bad news was it became massively harder to move nasty false search results to the back pages. These firms were going after the symptoms of a problem and unless something was done about it, the attackers were basically getting full-time jobs.
Cyber Investigation Services started out differently, as more of a regular investigative service founded by an ex-police officer. It eventually added Internet capability, and Chris Anderson leads it, but it focuses on eliminating the source of the problem. It turns out that the company literally wrote the book on how to approach this problem — it’s free and worth reviewing.
It is also tied to one of the largest firms in the U.S. that specializes in reputation protection, a legal practice founded on celebrity problems. The end result is a service that can generally not only get rid of the problem but, assuming the attacker has assets, move to recover damages as well.
If you go through a list of cases from July and June, you will see more than a few things that will curl your toes. Whether you use Cyber Investigation Services or another service, be aware that when this happens, the faster you nip it in the bud, the better the chance you can mitigate the damage. And the longer it goes on, the more chance that your firm or reputation will be terminally damaged as a result.
If you end up using this firm or another, I’d love to hear the results so I can share them anonymously like I did here in order to prevent others from experiencing the same pain. Often, much of what we are is our reputation and bringing the folks rapidly to justice who damage our companies, children, parents, spouses and our reputation can prevent a lot of unnecessary pain and cost. Scan the book and put your favorite firm in your address list, because someday someone you care about will need that information and, odds are, that someone may be you.