Saturday, November 2, 2013

Crisis Communications: Hacking Threat by The Messiah Against the Singapore Government

The government of Singapore has received a threat by "The Messiah" to back-track on their decision to implement the internet licensing framework.  Failure to do so, will result in the Collective launching attacks designed to cause massive financial loss.

This is an interesting case to discuss the subject of "choosing the battleground."  During the early stages of this crisis, the government of Singapore's initial response is crucial in framing the outcome.

Let me explain with an example.  In June 2004, three gunmen evading capture from Malaysia landed on the Singapore Armed Forces training island of Pulau Tekong.  In response, the Singapore Police Force (SPF) and Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) collectively responded by deploying forces to capture the gunmen.  In early news releases and statements, the SAF was seen as seeking parity with the SPF by emphasizing the point of joint operations.  In the end, all three gunmen were captured by the SPF and naturally there was talk comparing the capabilities of both forces.

My point is this.  By stating that it was a "joint operations", the SAF was putting themselves in a difficult to win position.  In the event all gunmen were captured by the SPF, people will speculate about the SAF capability vis-a-vis the SPF.  In the event that the SAF captured one or two of the gunmen, people will say that it is expected.

However consider this.  If the SAF had instead stated that they recognize that this is a "police matter" and that they would allow the SPF to take the lead, these are the possible outcomes:

a. SPF captures all.  No loss of face for the SAF as they after were after all playing a supportive role.
b. SAF captures one of two of the gunmen.  The SAF looks great as even in a supportive role, they were able to do the job of the SPF.

As an organization, which position would you rather be in?

Now back to the cyber threat by The Messiah.  Since the YouTube video has gone viral, netizens are now waiting for the government's response.  As a crisis communicator, I would advise the government to choose a battleground they can win (or at least not lose).  In this instance, such a battleground would be to not say that they can defend against all cyber-attacks (or even to say that they will apprehend the responsible hacker) as this is impossible.  The government should instead declare that like any terrorist attack, the government cannot be 100% all of the time.  The issue is thus not so much if there will be a cyber-attack, but how the government responds to restore services after an attack.  In this instance, the outcomes are as follows:

a. Incident of Cyber-Attack.  No issues as the government has already acknowledge some vulnerabilities.
b. No incident of Cyber-Attack. The government looks good as they have been able to defend against cyber-attacks.

Thus in summary, in a crisis scenario, especially in one in which the organization is at a disadvantage, the wise communicator will change the game by choosing his battleground.


CW Fong & Associates is a crisis communications specialists.  For information about our in-house workshops, contact our consultants at justin[a]

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