Steps To Take If You’re Cyber Attacked
All my life, I’ve worked to do the right things…live the right way; treat people the way I want to be treated; remain aware that I am here for God’s purpose. And, despite being given the opportunity, (a real blessing), to represent some of the most high-profile clients in the world…oftentimes out front publicly in the line of fire on their behalf…I always kept my personal life private. And, it remained that way until 2011.
Years earlier, I made the mistake of not filing my tax return on time. I was wrong for not doing so, and as a result in 2011, I plead guilty to “willful failure to file” my 2008 income tax return on time-a Misdemeanor. The day I stood before the Judge, a day I soon hoped to forget, was a very dark and embarrassing day for me. Walking out of court, I took a personal oath that I would never, ever, be late in filing again. I am blessed and proud to be an American, and pledged to myself that I will always adhere to my personal responsibilities; and, I publicly apologized.
I thought that upon leaving Court that day in 2011, I could move on. Regrettably for me, this would not happen.
Returning to my office, my assistant put before me articles which had been downloaded, some of which were just down right salacious and incorrect. A few of the headlines blared, “Raymone Bain, Michael Jackson’s Former General Manager Pleads Guilty to Tax Evasion;” “Raymone Bain, Michael Jackson’s Former Publicist Spared Prison;” “Raymone Bain….Avoids Jail,” “Raymone Bain, Celebrity Publicist Pleads.” I thought I would die. Where did this come from? Prison?!!! No one spoke to me about prison. (As a result of the headlines, I immediately called my attorney and was advised that of the list of potential penalties which could have been handed down, prison was one of them.) My tax matter was just the culmination of several bad years for me which began in 2009: my having to file a lawsuit, which has been well documented; the unexpected deaths of the “King of Pop,” Michael Jackson; my mother, Rosena, (a few months later); my cousin, Gloria, (on the day of my mother’s funeral); health issues, (falling requiring 51 stitches, etc.) Never in my entire life had I ever been hit with such devastating blows.
Because of the negativity online, and life’s challenges, I decided that I would never look at my personal profile ever again. I reasoned that I couldn’t do anything about it, anyway. “So forget it,” I said…”I will just ignore it.”
MY FIRST MISTAKE.
RULE #1: ALWAYS CHECK YOUR ONLINE PROFILE. KNOW WHAT IS BEING SAID AND WRITTEN ABOUT YOU. EVEN IF YOU CANNOT DO ANYTHING ABOUT IT, DON’T BE TAKEN BY SURPRISE
Hit by Reality:
I decided to venture outside of my normal work zone and began seeking business opportunities and projects in other arenas. I felt confident that my qualifications, business acumen, and
professional experiences, would qualify me for any management, public relations, communications, or public affairs opportunity. In doing so, I was questioned about the negative headlines which were still hovering , like smoldering heat, when I was “googled.” I was shocked…taken complete by surprise that after all of these years…these negative titles were still posted, in the #1 positioning on the front page, nonetheless, whenever I was “Googled.”
Upon “Googling” me, one did not read of my helping to raise millions for charity helping to break the glass ceiling for women interested in matriculating in the areas of sports and/or entertainment; my extensive political experiences, or, personal representation of the likes of Michael Jackson, Serena Williams, Babyface, Boyz II Men, Janet Jackson, Steve Harvey, and others. Where were the articles regarding my having been appointed Michael Jackson’s General Manager; appointed to the Board of Directors of Sony/ATV Music Publishing; or, appointed President/COO of The Michael Jackson Company? It was as if these had mysteriously disappeared.
What blared, like the bright sun, was my not filing my income tax returns on time. These posts, years later, were still prominently positioned on the search engine results whenever my name was used as a search term, and in the #1 post position. It was as if my entire personal and professional history had been erased and replaced with smears against my good name.
As a public relations professional, I became suspicious as I’ve had to deal with this same issue on behalf of my high-profile clients. I realized these negative posts, and their positionings, were being manufactured and manipulated.
WHEN YOU ARE IN THE PULSE OF MAINSTREAM ACTIVITY, AND NEGATIVE OUT-DATED POSTS REMAIN FOR YEARS IN THE #1 POSITION-HEED THIS WARNING: YOU’VE BEEN HACKED AND CYBER ATTACKED.
I quickly sought expert advice from colleagues…other public relations and digital media professionals, like me, as I felt I was too close to the situation and wanted to hear the advice of others in my profession. Their advice was as follows, and under normal circumstances, could have achieved positive and expected results:
“Click on (constantly access) the positive articles written about you…which will move them up on the server.”
“Make sure your personal and professional projects are also disseminated to the major bloggers and web journalists.”
“Have one of your colleagues, an online journalist, do a short personal profile on one of your most important and current Social projects…Teen Bullying and Teen Suicide.”
“You should have an IT expert attempt to correct whatever has been hacked.”
None of these efforts were successful. It was now time to take it to another level.
After all normal efforts failed, my colleagues whom I then conferred with, who are crisis managers, concluded that my polluted profile was being purposely manufactured. By who, was the question. “It could be a competitor,” they said; “it could be the individuals with whom you are in litigation;” “it could be someone who resents that you’re in litigation,” “it could be someone who did not like a client of your’s, or who did not like the color you were wearing one day.” “It could be some sick individual who might be angry because you commenced litigation in the first place, and is taking it upon him/herself to fight you the cowardly way. “ I’ll never know.
Like millions of others, I was being Cyber Attacked.
I was told that while there are firms which generate positive press, there are also those which specialize in generating negative press, particularly during litigation, in order to influence a possible jury pool. Online…because it’s harder to prove. Hackers hide by masking and changing IP address after IP address; and, foreign companies are often retained, because they are notorious for being able to hide their identities. I am also told that these firms will pay individuals, or solicit friends, to write negative articles on individuals.
Perpetual postings, (negative or positive), are as a result of adding Keywords to the Meta Tag Line. However, in order to do so, one has to have access to the writer’s server.
For example, there are two or three keywords generally associated with a post. The keywords “Raymone Bain,” “ CNN,” and “ Justin Bieber,” will bring up my CNN interview regarding Justin Bieber on Google, and other search engines.
After consulting with a digital security expert, I discovered that keywords had been added in the meta tag line of at least two articles, to the tune of 100-175 times like this:
Raymone Bain Michael Jackson Prison; Raymone Bain Michael Jackson Spared Prison;
Raymone Bain Avoids Jail Raymone Bain;Raymone Bain Spared Prison;
Raymone Bain Prison Michael Jackson
By adding so many Keywords, search engines (Google, Bing, Yahoo), were now being manipulated (programmed) to access these articles whenever my name is searched because the articles have now been affixed to my name in Cyber space.
I was also advised that the only options left for me was to:
Contact Google, to see if I could elicit their assistance in correcting the problem; and,
Contact the news organizations and request they correct the problem.
The representative at Google told me that:
Google will take down the link when the articles are no longer timely, after three years. Since the posts were are now four years old, I met that criterion;
Google will take down the link when it is of a Legal nature. I met this criterion as well.
However, I was also advised that there was a second step…the news organization of the original post (article) would have to release the link after Google released it; or, manually go in the server and reduce the keywords which had been added. In total, if all fell into play, the process would take 3-4 months.
A rep in Google’s legal department recommended that I contact the IT person at the respective news organization and solicit his/her assistance. I took this advice, to no avail. I wrote, and spoke to the heads of the IT departments.
I did not take into consideration that a reputable news organization would not want to admit that it’s server was/is susceptible to outside intrusion; and certainly, in the extreme, would also not admit that the keywords were being added internally, and intentionally, to keep the postings prominent for the purpose of driving readers to the organization’s site.
So, I was confronted with a choice: was I just to give up and live with manufactured and negative generated postings, some inaccurate? No I was not. I refuse to let one mistake in life be used against me, to define the rest of my life.
I began taking control and hope the following recommendations will serve as useful tools for those who find themselves in similar situations:
Being ignorant to how Social Media really worked, I went to my public library and began reading books on the subject, which proved exceptionally helpful. Don’t be clueless regarding a medium which, in this culture, is one of the most influential mediums in the world. Learn what drives Social and Digital Media. Useful publications to read in this regard are:
“The Art of Social Media: Power Tips for Power Users,”
Guy Kawasaki and Peg Fitzgerald
“Public Relations on the Net: Winning Strategies to Inform and Influence the Media, the Investment Community, the Government, the Public, and More!,”
“Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook: How to tell Your Story in a Noisy Social World,”
Gary Vaynerchuk (New York Times Bestselling Author)
Fight back…build up your online presence. There are a number of ways to be heard: Your
personal Website, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, …go for it!
Create a Website to tell your story, which helps you to control your image. Remember, nothing is as important as YOU speaking up, and out, on behalf of YOU.
If your problem persists and you feel it is detrimental to your safety or Professional integrity, retain attorneys to protect you against Cyber bullying, Cyber attacks, hacking and online-slander and defamation.
Crisis Communications firms are expensive. However, retaining one is an option should you need advice as to how to deal with negative profiles, slander, and defamatory issues in Social and Digital media.
I have been very fortunate to have friends, peers, professional colleagues and associates, who, like me, are strategists and Public Relations and Crisis Communications specialists. There was a unanimous recommendation that I go public by sharing the downside of my Cyber attacks, and preventive measures I have implemented. “You stop a coward by calling them out” I was advised.
“Put it out there…then move on”.
I offer to those of you confronted with the same situation, the exact same advice. Don’t let negative blogs, articles, attacks, and hacking deter you from your ultimate goal. Don’t fall victim…that’s the intent. Don’t let negativism define you. Just as there are so many good people in the world, there are just as many jerks, who will do anything for power and control, and can be compromised at the drop of a hat. “Don’t sweat the small stuff,” as they say.
Fight back… Stand up…Speak up…Shine…and by doing so, you too, will achieve positive results!