Cry me a ransom

Picture this. A busy office building, people everywhere, energy, tension, excitement, hustle, bustle… Phones are ringing, e-mails are flying, and computer keyboards are being hit non-stop. This is life in the fast lane.

In the typical modern corporation there will be strategic objectives and operational parameters, and of course, weekly reports, monthly goals, quarterly targets. And there is constant pressure to bring in the numbers. So, it is not uncommon to find stressed out people that are literally on the treadmill from the time they wake up until the time they hit their beds and collapse.

Long hours seems to be the norm for so many. And there is this never-ending pressure to check your messages. It used to be just e-mail but these days it is also WhatsApp and Slack and LinkedIn, and the occasional phone message (some people still do leave voice mail messages), and then there is social media, which is an abyss all on its own. The constant anxiety to stay up-to-date. Yes, stress is all around us, and it only seems to be getting more intense.

To hear someone joke, er, complain, about the pressures of modern day life is pretty common. So picture this now for a moment. A busy office worker talking to their manager :

I really need a few days off. I am just exhausted.

What’s the problem?

I am just tired of being on the phone all day, talking to customers, every day. It is exhausting. And some of the people are so rude.

Perhaps you just had a bad day. Tomorrow will be better. Come in a bit later tomorrow and try get some sleep tonight.

Ja, perhaps you are right. It was just…  this one guy today… I spoke with him 3 times and every time it was so painful.

Now, think about this for a minute … what business are they in?

Are they selling something over the phone? An insurance product? A mobile phone offering? Or perhaps this is travel service?

Maybe. But, how about this : organized crime. No jokes. Yes, the modern company I am describing in this story today are in the ransomware industry.

And this company has an HR department, and thirteenth cheques, and career paths, and mentorship programmes… yup.

Mafia are online these days, and they are extorting companies and people using malicious software (malware). It is big business, and it is professionally run and it is growing fast.

In the last month the world heard about WannaCry – this is going to continue. Ransomeware is big business.

When you think of computer hackers, think of high tech office buildings, complete with canteens and corporate pubs, and with modern day stresses.

This is the new world of online organized crime – modern, sophisticated, and yes, twisted.

Life is a breach

When we think of online crime, we think of someone taking money out of our bank account. That is the common illustration of a threat in the world of cyber security. But there is something far more fundamental that is soon going to worry all of us: breach.

We all lead very private lives. Social media is about the images we project, but behind the scenes we don’t reveal our vulnerabilities. Our medical records, our educational accomplishments (or lack of), our bank balances, our tax returns. And what about our shopping habits, our travel plans, our hotel bookings – these are all private. Can you imagine if a hospital computer network is breached and all their patients’ medical conditions are made public. Just think what would happen if everyone’s tax returns suddenly were floating around the Internet.

We all remember that scene in that beautiful film Love Actually, when the late, naughty Alan Rickman bought an expensive gift for his office co-worker, and we remember Emma Thompon’s sadness when she found out – she happened to see her husband sneaking around buying the lavish present for his mistress. But, can you imagine if one could simply look online and see what your partner is spending money on.

I remember one of my first clients back going back about 20 years. It was a big hotel chain. They told me that on Valentine’s Day they have 400% occupancy. Imagine what would happen if they were breached and all these people’s names were suddenly there for everyone to see. The Ashley Madison hack is a case in point: people committed suicide over this.

Laws are coming to punish those companies that don’t behave responsibly. Australia is ahead of the curve on this front. Breach laws are coming into effect this year. A company will legally need to report any data breach to the government, and also, notify their customers that have been affected.

According to the bill, a data breach is classified as an instance where there has been “unauthorised access to, or unauthorised disclosure of, personal information about one or more individuals (the affected individuals), or where such information is lost in circumstances that are likely to give rise to unauthorised access or unauthorised disclosure”. It qualifies as an “eligible data breach” when there is a likelihood that the individuals who are affected by the incident are at “risk of serious harm” because their information have been exposed.

In short, if your company has a breach and does not disclose it, and you are get busted, then the guilty company will be hit with massive fines. But this is not the real problem – it is about the people that are affected by having their private data exposed. This is where the real damage could be, and hence why laws are coming to help keep people’s private lives, private.

For a modern day company, university, or any organization that is holding a ton of private, and often, sensitive, data, breach is becoming a big concern, and an item on the executive agenda. This is not something that can be delegated down the chain as a nice to have project to be looked at in someone’s spare time. This is a serious issue. We have all our private information sitting there in databases connected to the Internet, and if a hacker really wanted to cause trouble they could mobilize mass panic in one well-crafted cyber attack.

Today’s connected organizations need to be responsible and they need to put in place the necessary technical steps to be notified of breach, and to do deal with these vulnerabilities as soon as possible. No one can afford to bury their head in the ground on this matter. To end off, imagine if a law firm or one of the accounting giants got hacked – just think of what a breach could lead to when it comes to confidential and private information. Phew!

Breach notification technology and “incident response” is soon going to be mandatory for all connected organizations.

Questions about the future of money by someone who is not a banker

Money is basically a promise underwritten by banks, where everyone agrees that it has a value and we all go along with it. Ones and zeros in cyberspace, conjured up and manipulated by banking wizards. Money, it seems, is a fictional popularity contest.

Banks vouch for your financial standing, offer convenience in trading with customers and suppliers and stop you from getting robbed of paper money hidden in your floorboards.

Through over-lending and over-extension of ‘money’ in their coffers, banks tend to get a little too clever at everyone else’s expense. When issuing you a loan, they’re not at risk. They stand as gatekeepers to money, but will take your assets if you don’t pay. Imagine a casino with massive amounts of punters pouring in money, then the casino betting the money themselves. Either way, the house always wins. Access to your money gets monopolised, with the average Joe and Josephine paying to keep these institutions profitable. (Please don’t freeze my accounts, I’m just thinking out loud.)

The majority of money in the modern economy is created by commercial banks making loans. They’re said to loan out more money than they have in reserve at a 10:1 ratio – great odds. In many ways, banks can be seen as pyramid schemes that create debt, set to explode over time as bubbles develop and burst. This is followed by bailouts and no repercussion for crashing the world economy.

Which is why the enigmatic Satoshi Nakamoto (possibly an Australian programmer) unleashed his invented cryptocurrency called Bitcoin a month after the Lehman Brothers collapse in 2008.

Are you in sales ? News flash : we are ALL in sales.

Who of you out there are there are sales-men? Or sales-women. Ok ok, sales-people. And does it really even matter. Now, if I had asked this via e-mail then thousands of people would be e-mailing their opinions back and forth about whether it should be sales-man or sales-person and whether I was a sexist or the sexiest or whatever. I know you get the point.

E-mail is an amazing thing. It allows us to communicate something with someone at light speed. It allows people who have never met to moan at each other and complain like never before. It allows people who live on opposite sides of the world to get into fights and arguments and generally drive each other mad. Yes, it really is a lot more incredible than you think. And yes, I am sounding very cynical today but I am really fed up with reading so many boring, self-indulgent e-mails that are over-flowing with emotions and subtext. Enough is enough.

Oops, I got side-tracked. So, who of you are sales-people? Well, I got news for – every one of us are sales-people. Anyone who ever tried to convince someone of something is in sales. We are all selling – all the time. Making a sale or closing a deal does not have to involve a payment. When someone buys into what you are saying then a sale has been made. Every time you convince someone to do something then you have closed a deal. When you get someone to lend you something you are selling. When you get someone to go out on a date with you then you are selling. When you get someone to give you their time then you are selling. And it should be clear that selling is something that people do to other people.

People don’t buy WHAT you do, they buy WHY you do it

If Donald Trump taught us anything, it’s that being yourself can get you elected president of the United States. Although being himself involved no thought filtering, no diplomacy and being guided by ego. This might not work for you, unless you have tremendously thick skin, a bouffant hairdo elevated by hot air and (supposedly) billions in assets.

What we can take from The Donald’s political marketing masterclass is the importance of being authentic to achieve.

Like him or not, he also touched on living with passion and having purpose in a world of automated bots and online fakery.

Audi represents ‘Vorsprung Durch Technik’ and De Beers believes that ‘A Diamond is Forever.’ (Or perhaps ‘A Diamond payment is Forever’.)

You need clear branding to signal what you stand for. We all know that Apple ‘Think Different’. Sure, it’s grammatically incorrect, but it stands for something tangible.

Unfortunately the slogan for Apple’s new iPhone 7 (‘This is 7’) translates into ‘This is penis’ in Hong Kong. But it can only be good for sales, Apple don’t cock about.

What does your personal brand mean to people? And what’s your unique selling point (USP)?

A USP isn’t a meaningless slogan, it’s a compelling summary of what you or your business embodies. It’s your eloquent elevator pitch, it’s what differentiates you from others. It leaves people with a clear feeling and understanding of your personal brand offering.

Michael Jackson was ‘The King of Pop’. Barnum and Bailey circuses were ‘The Greatest Show on Earth’. Donald Trump is a real-life Bond villain.

Could you be The Queen of Confectionary? How about The Count of Accounting?

This unique offering might take time to learn and figure out – and is often a lifelong process.

Having said this, you’re not a product, so stay human. Be the brand, but not in a forced way.