Takeaways from this post:

  • Executives have embraced social media channels for brand-building and thought leadership.
  • However, they are exposed to serious social media threats, and their companies know it.
  • Impersonation, account takeover, and executive phishing are all of major concern.
  • Companies need software solutions that can offer maximum protection without constraining executives’ social media freedom.
In early 2021, we surveyed 600 enterprise leaders. We wanted to learn how businesses are protecting their executives in the digital realm, and how they are thinking about social media threats. We discovered a full embrace of social media on the part of executives – and a great deal of warranted concern from those thinking about cybersecurity within their organizations.

Social Media: A Universal Executive Play

In our survey, 100% of executives said they had adopted social media as a business tool. 39% of them utilize platforms like LinkedIn and Twitter to build and forward their brands; 32% use these cloud channels to showcase their thought leadership.

56% of respondents predict that social media will become increasingly important as a tool for executive communications by 2021, making it a major priority for future investments. 48% of businesses already spend 50-100 hours a month on social media for executive communication purposes. 

The clear takeaway from these percentages is that social media channels are a major part of executives’ everyday digital life. And this will only increase in the coming months. 

Social Media Threats: A Clear and Present Danger

Despite this enthusiasm for social media, our poll clearly revealed that companies are acutely aware of the dangers posed by social media threats. 

Many executives have been at the receiving end of cyber attacks and threats. The volume and frequency of these attacks, as well as their growing sophistication, make executives among the weakest links in the cybersecurity chain. In one of our earlier surveys, 1 in 4 of enterprise IT officers and cybersecurity experts said that executive social media accounts are a major risk factor for their enterprise.

In our 2021 executive protection poll, companies ranked the biggest social media threats to their company as follows:

  • Impersonation/Fake Accounts: 32% of companies viewed this as the biggest danger
  • Account Takeover: 27% of companies viewed this as the biggest danger
  • Executive Spear Phishing: 22% of companies viewed this as the biggest danger

Protecting Against the Major Social Media Threats

How can companies protect against these threats? There are some macro answers here. Security and compliance need to work together. Presently, only 18% of business organizations consider cybersecurity a board-level priority; this has to change. However, when it comes to these specific threats, companies need to react in specific ways:

Impersonation/Fake Accounts

More than once, Bitcoin scammers have netted thousands of dollars’ worth of cryptocurrency by pretending to be Tesla CEO Elon Musk on Twitter. This is just one high-profile example of executive impersonation, which can seriously damage a brand. Even if the hackers are at fault, the blowback can fall on the company being impersonated.

Impersonation is such a scourge that social media networks like Facebook and Twitter perform regular purges to rid their channels of billions of fake accounts. Impersonation and fake accounts can hurt an executive's reputation and chip away at the trust people have for corporate leaders.

To protect themselves, companies need to be able to protectively scan the surface and dark web for impersonators, and initiate takedowns.

Account Takeovers

Account takeovers typically occur due to faulty security protocols and poor cybersecurity practices on the part of employees. External and unauthorized parties gain access to social media accounts through employees falling prey to social engineering and other social media attacks.

Recent data reveals that 33% of organizations experience 1-10 corporate account takeover attempts in a year; 19% say they’ve dealt with 11-25 attempts, while 16% faced 26-50 takeover attempts.

Account takeovers can be devastating. Best case scenario is some serious brand reputation damage. Worst case scenario is the exfiltration of the most sensitive company data, and the initiation of financial attacks.

To protect themselves, companies need to be alerted to all unusual account activity, and have the power to recover accounts and revert them to their previous state.

Executive Spear Phishing

The growing use of social media exponentially increases the threat of executive phishing (or whaling). Executive phishing is highly sophisticated. Messages are personalized, and executives are tricked into opening malicious files that can contain devastating ransomware

Research conducted by BlackHat found that 66% of executive phishing messages delivered through social media DMs were opened by their recipients. Executives easily fall prey to these social media attacks because they can't distinguish the threat without extensive cybersecurity training or experience.

To protect themselves, companies need round-the-clock scanning of all executive messages, and the proactive detection and quarantining of potentially threatening interactions.

Guarding Against Social Media Attacks

Companies are fully aware of how bad a successful cyberattack against their executives could be. In the event of a hack, 70% of respondents said their both company’s brand and reputation would sustain massive damage. Half of respondents also believe that it would drive down shareholder value.

These fears are not exaggerated.

To protect executives from potentially damaging social media threats, companies must onboard tools that can protect executive accounts, wherever they are. The right security solution will possess the following features:

  • Full visibility of the threat surface
  • Real-time risk detection of threats in social media
  • Analysis and sandboxing of malicious/suspicious files
  • Detection of impersonated accounts
  • Detection and purging of high-risk accounts and followers
  • Dark web monitoring

But remember: Executives put a premium on productivity. This means security tools have to be lightweight and effectively invisible. 76% of CEOs admit to relaxing security protocols on applications they use to speed up their tasks. They want protection, but they place more value on productivity, efficiency, and convenience.

Platforms need to be robust, but they can’t place any drag on social media activities. Companies should look carefully at their options and make sure that the tools they choose strike this balance.

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