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3 Exposure Lessons Learned Via Anthony Weiner

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Just for a minute, put yourself in the shoes of Anthony Weiner. You’ve done something exceptionally stupid, whether it’s sending sexually explicit photos of yourself to strangers you don’t even know, or another unrelated mistake. To compound the stupidity, you involve social networking – you Facebook or tweet or YouTube the act – or even simply email details of what you’ve done.

Everyone of us makes impulsively bad decisions (probably not as bad as Weiner, but bad nonetheless). Prior to the internet, you at least had a chance to recover from your past transgressions, as there wasn’t a readily accessible public record of the act unless you happened to be caught on tape (think Nixon, Rodney King, etc.). But now that pretty much every human carries either a camera or video recorder with them at all times (mobile phones), can communicate instantly with a massive audience (Facebook, Twitter, SMS, blogs), and have access to more information than exists in the Library of Congress just by pulling up Google, the equation of how you control sensitive information about yourself has changed radically. Every stranger (and even friend) is like a full service news station with video, distribution and commentary, just waiting to report on your missteps.

Here are three lessons the rest of us can take from the Anthony Weiner affair:

  1. Fame raises the bar. Celebrity, for all of it’s glory, puts a spotlight on your conduct. When you get paid for attracting attention, you are bound to attract unwanted attention. Unless your brand consciously involves a rebel persona (Paris Hilton, Lindsey Lohan, Dennis Rodman – in other words, the more trouble you get in, the more money you make), you will be held to a higher standard than those of us who fly under the radar. Fame has its faults. Remember when Gary Hart challenged the press to prove he wasn’t a standup guy? Now everyone who has even the most basic tech tools is an instant paparazzi.
  2. Mind the 3 Laws of Posting Online. When you post anything online, what you have published is most often immediately public, permanent and exploitable. You may think that you have a claim to privacy online, but you are deluding yourself. What you upload is only as private as the company or individual housing the data. Once you post, there is no “taking it back”. Weiner removed his tweets quickly, but posts, pictures and videos are backed up, re-tweeted, liked, screen captured and otherwise saved long before you can put a stop to it. Finally, as this case reinforces, what you post online can and will be used against you if it falls into the wrong hands. In Weiner’s case, the wrong hands were those of a political enemy, conservative blogger Andrew Breitbart. Because Weiner chose to make the posts public (even accidentally), Breitbart has a free pass to commit perfectly legal extortion. Before it is all over, the Democratic party will lose one of it’s brightest stars. That is probably a just result, but there is still a question about the forceful nature of the means involved.
  3. Admitting fault early and often. If you’ve done something wrong and it is recorded online, “hang a lantern on it” as quickly as possible. This is a phrase that Chris Matthews used in his book on political survival, Hardball. To summarize Matthews position, if you make a mistake and it goes public, admit to it as quickly as possible, take ownership of the wrongdoing and don’t lapse into the web of lies brought on by panic. Hang a lantern on it – expose it to the light, take your lumps and move on. In the end, what will bring Weiner down will likely not be his obscene tweets or explicit photos. Rather, it will be the fact that he blatantly lied about his posts. Had he come clean immediately, he would be judged as a person who made some mistakes just like the rest of us, not as a Congressman who deliberately mislead his constituents.

And there is a larger, more important lesson in all of this. In a world where your every action is subject to capture, publication and mass distribution, it’s far easier to be a moral, upstanding, well-adjusted individual than it is to attempt to hide a dysfunctional dark side. Ultimately, a bit of restraint, discretion and even therapy will be much cheaper than living a double life.

 

John Sileo speaks, writes and consults professionally on information leadership: managing the exposure of personal and corporate information. His clients include the Department of Defense, Pfizer, Homeland Security and Blue Cross. Learn more at www.ThinkLikeASpy.com or contact him directly on 1.800.258.8076. Expose yourself wisely.

Egypt Going for Total Information Control

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The Egyptian government has reportedly cut all access to the internet, extending their earlier restrictions on Twitter, Facebook, BlackBerry service and other forms of mass communication. The ban is likely to be in response to the use of social networking sites to organize pro-democracy, anit-Mubarak demonstrations in Egypt and other countries.

Internet access issues in Egypt have coincided with mounting demonstrations in the country, many of which were organized via social-networking sites like Facebook and Twitter. Thousands poured into the streets of Cairo starting Tuesday to protest failing economic policies, government corruption, and to call for an end of the nearly 30-year rule of President Hosni Mubarak. -PC Magazine

Pro-gun lobbyists worry about enforced gun registration because it could possibly give the government a way to confiscate all firearms. That’s child’s play compared to their ability to shut down access to the critical tools we use every day: the internet, email, Facebook, Google, text, cell phones – the information arsenal that we all tend to take for granted. Egypt understand the importance.

And so does the Obama administration, according to this WSJ Post:

At the State Department, spokesman P.J. Crowley expressed “deep concern” after Mr. Mubarak shut down the Internet and mobile phone service in Cairo. On his Twitter account, Mr. Crowley wrote: “Events unfolding in #Egypt are of deep concern. Fundamental rights must be respected, violence avoided and open communications allowed.”

Information is power, and Mubarak is playing offense in this game.

John Sileo trains organizations on Information Offense Strategies to stay ahead of the data theft, social networking and intelligence control curve. Learn more at ThinkLikeASpy.com.

WikiLeaks – The Ultimate INSIDE Job

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If you need a world class example of the adage that INFORMATION IS POWER, look at the recent kerfuffle WikiLeaks has caused. Since threatening to release more than 250,000 U.S. diplomatic cables, WikeLeaks has experience a rash of cyber problems (none attributable to the U.S. Government, but it does make you wonder…):

“The site’s efforts to publish 250,000 diplomatic cables has been hampered by denial-of-service attacks, ejection from its server host and cancellation of its name by its American domain name provider. Each time WikiLeaks has worked out other arrangements to bring the site back online.” – By Charley Keyes and Laurie Ure, CNN

Who wouldn’t leak information via WikiLeaks? You are pretty much guaranteed anonymity with few repercussions. You don’t like the way something is being handled at your corporation or in your Government Department, but have a Non-Disclosure Agreement that keeps you from speaking up publicly? Send it to WikiLeaks and let them do your dirty work. Non-traceable, non-accountable, high profile information dissemination at your service. I’m not sure if it’s fair or ethical, but who cares when it’s so damned convenient and effective? Transparency in a box.

WikiLeaks is an international non-profit media organization that publishes submissions of otherwise unavailable documents from anonymous sources and unnamed leaks. It has no association to Wikipedia, which confuses a lot of people. WikiLeaks was  launched in 2006 and is run by The Sunshine Press. Within a year of its launch, the site claimed a database that had grown to more than 1.2 million documents.

WikiLeaks has been responsible for the release of extremely controversial war time videos and documents. In April 2010, they posted a video showing the slaughter if Iraqi civilians; the Iraq War Logs were posted in October and most recently they are known for releasing a series of diplomatic cables. The leak of Iraq War Logs included over 400,000 controversial documents that were released with the help of major media groups.

The most recent controversy is because WikiLeaks says it has 251,288 cables sent by American diplomats over the last 40 years that it plans to release over the next few weeks and months. One of these cables seems to show an order by United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to diplomats to obtain credit card and frequent flier numbers of the French, British, Russian and Chinese delegations to the United Nations Security Council.

Many wonder how WikiLeaks can hide the sources of their documents and information. The site boasts that they use state-of-the-art technology that allows them to bounce the encrypted information from country to country to hide the trail and protect their sources. Countries such as Sweden and Belgium have given them legal protection.

It’s fairly apparent that the source of these documents is an inside job. Someone inside of the State Department, or other entity with access to State Department records, is leaking these documents with impunity.

This recent leak has lead to an open criminal investigation by the Department of Defense. Senator John McCain, R-Arizona, called the WikiLeaks episode “an incredible breach of national security.” I have to agree with him a bit. I believe in government transparency, but there are areas where information control trumps disclosure. Unless I read the individual documents in question, I wouldn’t know how to rule on this case – but it doesn’t matter, because they are already out there.

So far a single low-ranking U.S. soldier, Pfc. Bradley Manning, is the only person charged and held in custody in connection with the leaks.

Jeh Johnson, The Pentagon’s top lawyer, said WikiLeaks has openly solicited people on its web page to break the law and provide classified information. “I don’t view WikiLeaks as journalism,” said Johnson. Johnson said he was briefed regularly on the open criminal investigation by the Department of Justice.

John Sileo delivers keynote speeches on topics of information exposure and control.

Information Survival: Your Life Depends on It

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I became a professional identity theft speaker because my business partner used my identity (and my business’s impeccable 40-year reputation) to embezzle more than a quarter million dollars from our best, most trusting customers. Thanks to drawn-out criminal trials and a seriously impaired lack of attention to my business, I suddenly found myself without a profession.

So I wrote a book about my mistakes, and with a little luck, it led to a speaking career based in first-hand experiences with data theft. The formula works – sharing my failure to protect sensitive information and losing just about everything as a result – my wealth, my business, my job and nearly my family – is a powerful motivator for audiences, both as individuals and professionals. People only understand and act upon the corrosive nature of this crime when they can taste it’s bitterness for themselves. My goal has always been to provide a safe and effective appetizer of data theft that convinces audiences to feed on prevention rather than recovery.

But I’ve realized through my contact with exceptionally smart people, from the Pentagon and Department of Homeland Security to Fortune 500 executives and privacy experts, that identity theft (and it’s close business relative, data breach), are just symptoms of a larger movement undermining personal lives and profit margins on a daily basis —  a movement that demands we be trained in the art of information survival.

What is Information Survival?

We are bombarded by information, 24 hours a day –  24/7 news, email, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube, texting, instant messaging, voice mail, cell phones – and the mobile revolution means that we have access at all times of the day, every where we go. Confronted by so much data, we are often forced to process it instantly, relying on shortcuts and bad data along the way to make rapid decisions at digital speeds. And when we make rapid decisions, we often make mistakes.

Recently, Tyler Clementi, a student at Rutgers University, witnessed the cruel speed and ubiquity of information when his room mates posted a YouTube video of him having what he believed was a private sexual encounter in his dorm room. Humiliated, Tyler made a rushed decision to throw his young life over the George Washington bridge. His is the cruelest failure of information survival because Tyler never had a chance to control the information, the video, that would destroy him. Thankfully, we can teach other youngsters how to control what information they can control, and how to survive the rest.

Best selling author, Larry Winget, put it well in a post on my Facebook wall last week:

I agree that teaching our children not to bully others is an issue that must be addressed – but teaching our children not to be victims of bullies is more important. — Larry Winget (emphasis mine)

Information survival is the skill set that allows each of us to weather the downsides of a data-driven economy, to thrive in a knowledge-is-power world without stooping to use information as a weapon, like Tyler’s roommates did. Information survival is part data control, part self-esteem.

When we consciously withhold certain information from our Facebook profile (date of birth, hometown, current location), we are engaging in information survival. When the United States forms a task force to defend our power plants, stock markets, banks, air traffic control, water supply and phone connections against cyber attack, we are acknowledging the power of information, and the imperative of survival training. The company employee who refuses to transmit sensitive data on an unprotected wireless connection in a cafe, the executive who leads by example while instilling a culture of privacy in his corporation, the college student who understands the destructive power of their next post — these are all examples of information survival in action.

Don’t wait to train your people on information survival – whether they are your kids, your employees, or yourself.

John Sileo is a professional speaker on information survival, social media exposure, identity theft and cyber crime for the Department of Defense, Fortune 1000 companies and any organization that wants to protect the profitability of their private information. Contact him directly on 800.258.8076 or visit his speaker’s website at www.ThinkLikeASpy.com.