How the Battle Against Cyber Crime Can Inspire Innovation


Thought-piece on innovation-led change through the lens of data, tech, and cyber crime from Tom Corey, VP, Consulting Services at Wunderman Thompson Data.

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Tom Corey
VP, Consulting Services Wunderman Thompson Data

Innovation inspires change.

Within marketing, we track innovation in the data and technology landscape — motivated by the advancements that improve consumers’ lives and drive business outcomes. 

We also find inspiration in the rapidly changing battle for our digital safety and security.

Some bad actors have been making advancements of their own. Innovative techniques developed by rogue organizations have been used to access protected data (data breaches) or to lock employees and administrators out of their own systems, removing access to protected data, only to reinstate access in exchange for a paid fee (ransomware).   

These bad actors have been experiencing some success that has been grabbing headlines. They have developed a new, advanced set of tactics to exploit systems faster than those responsible for the systems and data could react or respond to these changes. 

But the tables may be turning. Last May, the Russian hacker group “Darkside” shut down the Colonial oil pipeline in a ransomware attack, bringing all aspects of production and distribution to a halt. The hackers demanded millions of dollars to release those systems, and that downtime created gaps in product availability. This caused gas panic-buying, increased prices and stoked fears that additional infrastructure was open to attack. 

The leaders at the Colonial pipeline succumbed to paying nearly $4.4M in bitcoin as ransom to have their systems released. But the FBI had been developing their own set of new innovative tactics in response to this growing threat of new digital piracy, and this was their opportunity to act.

For months the FBI had been tracking Darkside, and in the process had identified the digital wallet in which the ransom was ultimately deposited. Using their own innovative tactics, the FBI recovered over 50% of the ransom payment back from the hackers.

An innovative response to an innovative threat.

In another example, a pervasive challenge in preventing criminal behavior has been the production of encrypted phones for use in running global crime rings. This innovative technology enables undetectable communications that make the tracking and tracing of illegal activity a challenge for policing organizations. 

That is unless a government agency creates their own supply of encrypted phones to be sold on the black market under the covert guise of a shell company. This is exactly what the FBI did in collaboration with Australian Federal Police when they “strategically developed and covertly operated an encrypted device company, called ANOM, which grew to service more than 12,000 encrypted devices to over 300 criminal syndicates operating in more than 100 countries, including Italian organized crime, outlaw motorcycle gangs, and international drug trafficking organizations," according to Europol.  

Innovations like this will create doubt in the source of future technology for these criminal groups, ideally curbing their ability to coordinate and organize. One innovation leads to the next.  A change for the positive. 

Innovation-led change is important, and it can also be daunting. Proactive innovation is the gold standard, but not all challenges can be planned for. A delayed response to new external threats will widen gaps—whether in the battle against cybercrime or responding to competitive changes in marketing capability. 

So how do we embrace innovation-led change?

Take Inventory. Change is difficult when we aren’t prepared. Take stock of your tools, infrastructure and processes. Note the gaps, and address if they’re critical. Examine your external environment and identify opportunities and threats, including immediacy and level of impact.

Create a Culture of Change. The process of change itself is difficult. By developing a culture that can both drive and react to change, we reduce biases for resistance and build an expectation for it.

Be the Change. A shift from reacting to innovation-led change to driving innovation-led change empowers anyone who had the opportunity to experience it. Taking ownership of your future direction will create opportunities and advantages while others take time to react and respond. 

While innovation can often feel limited or specific to the products and services that we use or consume daily, innovation-led change is pervasive in all aspects of our lives. In business and in life, a critical component of our individual and collective successes will be determined by our ability and speed in driving and reacting to innovation-led change.