Messaging apps are getting more use, and it's putting companies at risk

Businesses need to be aware of the dangers associated with employees using WhatsApp, WeChat, and other communication channels.

Messaging apps are getting more use, and it's putting companies at risk

TechRepublic's Karen Roby talks with Jim Zuffoletti, CEO and cofounder of SafeGuard Cyber, and Amanda Tucker, chief risk and compliance officer for Atlantic Bay Mortgage Group, about keeping communication channels safe. The following is an edited transcript of their conversation.

Jim Zuffoletti: We're seeing an explosion in these new communication channels that are driving the digital economy. You mentioned one of the big ones, WhatsApp. WeChat is another one. Other social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn, as well as collaboration channels. You hear about, for example, Microsoft Teams and Slack. These are all platforms that have become increasingly important for the way that people are conducting business. In this current COVID-19 dynamic, they've gone from being important business tools to essential business platforms that people must use every day. And with that adoption comes a whole lot of responsibility that companies face in terms of securing and mitigating the risks on those platforms.

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Karen Roby: Amanda, talk a little bit about how about 95% of your employees are working remotely now. Talk a little bit about the ways that they're using social media, for what reasons besides the obvious, and how that can present security concerns.

Amanda Tucker: We have always been a company that has been forward-thinking and forward utilization of social media channels, so Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram, and a few others that I am learning about each day. How we interact with consumers, with our borrowers, and really, with each other has very much changed in the last five weeks. Our focus has been less on the mortgage industry and advertising our brand and really kind of this new environment that we all find ourselves in. A lot of our mortgage bankers engage with their clientele through social media. In working with Safeguard Cyber, we've always utilized it for digital risk monitoring, more so in the regulatory space, but with the industry and the rapidly evolving nature of what's going on within the mortgage industry, as well as COVID-19. It really caused us to step back and take a look at, "Where is that risk?" "How can we arm our employees for both their internal collaboration channel and external social media engagement so that we're being mindful of what we say to protect the brand, but also with the end user, our consumer, in mind?"

Karen Roby: Jim, how can they best arm their employees to make sure they're not opening the company up to a massive risk?

Jim Zuffoletti: One of the things that we're doing in the current moment right now is trying to stay close to the customer and clients and even potential clients in understanding that the way that they're doing business, which channels they're using, is happening rapidly. It's changing rapidly. And in many cases, organizations don't even have visibility throughout the organization about what people are adopting. We're on this mission to raise awareness for these enterprise leaders and saying, "Hey, in this current environment, you've got people who are adopting all these different channels. You've got to be mindful about it, and you've got to make sure you secure it." It's about raising awareness. The second component is trying to stay ahead of the risks as they emerge, whether it's disinformation or malicious content or potential regulatory interpretations, so that we can share them with our customers and partners.

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Karen Roby: When you talk, Jim, about a company's employees being aware, how aware do you feel small businesses really understand just how significant the risk can be if they're not out in front of it?

Jim Zuffoletti: A lot of cases with small businesses, they learn about this after they've had damage that's already done. We're in a moment when this is a well-understood risk area, particularly for organizations like Atlantic Bay, but in the case of smaller businesses, I think they're just coming online and learning to understand it and how to deal with it.

Karen Roby: How difficult is it, Amanda, to make sure your employees understand the importance of watching what they post?

Amanda Tucker: It is absolutely a challenge. It's a challenge for all of us to be more mindful of how we are interacting, how even the briefest comment, post, video, thought, share could be perceived, especially, I think, in the current environment where all of our sensitivities and anxiety is heightened. And so one of the things that we've done is we've partnered our digital risk monitoring with some really robust social media guidelines. Our company's rules of engagement, whether it is for internal collaboration and communication or external facing on our social media channels, one of the things we ask everyone to be mindful of is, understand your core area of knowledge. What is your area of expertise? And don't engage across that line. So being mindful that we're in the mortgage industry, we aren't healthcare professionals, we aren't government regulators, we aren't crafting policy. It's about being mindful of what we know and where we can be most useful and productive.

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Karen Roby: Before we close out here, Jim, let me ask you as a person that's been involved in cybersecurity for many years and an expert in this field, just in general cybersecurity right now, it's more important that we understand it than ever or be on our toes. Because as we know, when we're vulnerable, that's when criminals can really take advantage of us, and that's when bad things can happen all around. How concerned are you when it comes to cybersecurity? Do you feel like this is one of the, I hate to use the word scariest times, but it is a very scary time for everyone, we're just not certain right now, really, what's going to happen?

Jim Zuffoletti: Unfortunately it is. We're excited to talk about the story with our partner Atlantic Bay and how they've really taken a positive moment and then part of a community and helping to be a reliable partner to their customers and sharing the right information. But you've referenced the fact that we're also in a moment when the cyber criminals who are out there, they recognize that the adoption of these platforms have gone up. And not only that, but more and more critical information is present on those platforms. And that's made this again be from something that's important to essential in the current environment. I think it's something that businesses both small and large need to take extraordinarily seriously right now. And we've viewed the moment that we're in as the beginning of a new normal where more and more of our businesses will be virtualized this way.

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Karen Roby talks with Jim Zuffoletti, CEO and cofounder of SafeGuard Cyber, and Amanda Tucker, chief risk and compliance officer for Atlantic Bay Mortgage Group, about keeping communication channels safe.

Image: Mackenzie Burke