Internet rage – is your business at risk?

My website was hacked recently. I’m really quite ignorant when it comes to all things about my website, so when I received an email from my host telling me that they’d had to pull the site down until I fixed it (me, fix it? are you kidding?) I confess to being quite shocked and upset. Particularly as the wording of the email went along the lines of “you agreed when you signed up to being hosted that you would not cause any disrepute to our site”. Of course I agreed that and was rather upset that they felt I had knowingly done something that would. Anyway…

I duly spent a small amount of money to subscribe to a security firm in the US that was affiliated with the host, then a larger amount of money to pay to have the malicious code (“malware”) removed line by line, which apparently wasn’t part of the smaller subscription.

Two days after I had been assured that it was now over and I could breathe a sigh of relief, I received an email from a young guy in the UK that he had sent through the “contact us” capture on the website. Let’s call him Josh, since that was his name. His email went along the lines of, “stop sending me emails” and signed off by referring to me as a “c*!%”.

Most language doesn’t offend me, I’ve worked in heavy industry for too long. Of course when it’s directed at me it’s never pleasant, but the “c” word really does bother me whenever it’s used. So, I duly responded to Josh, asking if it was really necessary to use that language and apologising that he had received spam but my website had been hacked.

I also found the company with the domain name in his email address, which was a solar panel sales and installation company based in Shropshire, and checked out that Josh was, in fact, a real person. Quite a mild-mannered-looking young man really, who you wouldn’t expect to be sending abusive emails from his business email address. Which, obviously, can impact the reputation of his business as well as his own personal reputation. Granted, I’m not likely to be buying solar panels in Shropshire any time soon, but I can tell you, if I were, it wouldn’t be from Josh or his company.

The thing with the internet is that people feel like they are removed from the consequences of their behaviour because they can’t see the person they are directing it to / at. I’d compare it to “road rage” – people feel that they have a barrier between themselves and the target of their behaviour, so it’s easier for them to behave in a way they wouldn’t if the person was standing right in front of them.

(The irony of this of course is that with information being so freely available on the internet, they’re really not hiding behind anything at all. It took me less than a minute to find Josh’s employer using Google.)

If I’d been dealing with Josh in person and was annoying him, I think it’s highly unlikely that he would have used the language he did. And if he did, it’s quite possible that his company might have fired him. Do I think they would consider doing this in the current circumstances? Not a chance. No real tangible harm done, they have not lost any potential business and I’m too far away to damage their reputation with others in their region. I think (hope?) he has learned his lesson.

Consider though a business that is less locally-reliant, or at least is not geographically constrained by the physical product delivery and installation. It’s quite possible that business is being lost or a brand is being damaged by employees who feel more uninhibited by the artificial barrier of the internet than they would by a telephone and, certainly, by dealing directly with a person. And unless someone tells you, you may never know if your employees are damaging your business.

In Australia, a business could also be found liable for the harassing or bullying behaviour of an employee over the internet.

Obviously, if you don’t know about it, you can’t deal with it. But the first step in dealing with any bad behaviour is prevention.
– Understand that people often do behave differently when they feel they are protected by the relative anonymity of the internet.
– Spell out your expectations that they WON’T do so while representing your business.
– Check that they understand what this means by doing some training.
– And remind them every so often, don’t rely on an initial information session to protect your business.

So, did Josh get back to me? Yes, he did. He didn’t apologise. He told me he thought it didn’t make sense that a hacker would send him emails from my address and asked me to take him off any mailing lists. I wonder if he thinks it would make more sense for a legitimate business to damage its own reputation by spamming random people around the world. (And, i’m sure you will see how unlikely it was that I had him on a mailing list in the first place given that I’m in NSW, Australia and he’s in the UK, and our businesses are completely unrelated.)

Personally, I don’t think anything that hackers do makes sense – the whole act of causing disruption, destruction and chaos is senseless. So after paying out money a third time to finally get a security system that would REALLY protect my website (allegedly), I’m hoping that Josh has stopped receiving emails, and that anyone else who was randomly getting them has too. Otherwise I might as well just throw my money away.

By the way if you are interested in where the hackers got in, it was through WordPress….. if your website uses WordPress as a platform, I strongly suggest that you ensure you have good security, or insurance.

Whether it’s bad employee behaviour or nasty hacker behaviour, prevention is better than cure.

Written by Yvonne Walker

HR with ease(R) are experts in performance management, workplace diversity and inclusion. From workforce planning, indigenous and minority participation strategies, workforce education, investigations into behaviour that is not supportive of diversity through to analytics and reporting, we help employers understand how diversity can boost their bottom line and put practical strategies in place to achieve and maintain it.

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