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Law for Business

Knowhow - guidance - precedents

Veale Wasborough Vizards , 22 OCT 2015

Cyber attack!

Cyber attack!
Ben Holt
Partner, Veale Wasbrough Vizards

Online risk and reputation management is becoming an increasingly more important issue for all businesses.

It is arguably even more relevant for family businesses as it is vital that a reputation that may have taken several generations to carefully cultivate is protected.

Whilst there is no way of completely avoiding exposure, the potential disruption and costs of an online attack can be minimised by forward planning and an awareness of the risks.

So what should family businesses be looking out for?

It will be no surprise that concerns about comments on Facebook, Twitter and blogging sites are probably the most common issues that we see.

Cyber related legal issues are wide-ranging and can also include:

  • cyber-squatting - including abusive domain registration or other infringements of a family businesses' intellectual property rights;
  • confidentiality breaches - particularly when the author has access to confidential information and/or there could be Data Protection Act implications;
  • defamation - most commonly by disgruntled employees, competitors or customers;
  • harassment - such as cyber-bullying and issues surrounding obligations to protect employees.
If your family business falls victim to an issue online, you should assess at an early stage whether civil action is appropriate.

What can family businesses do?

Family businesses should act quickly to clamp down on the offensive material.

Stop the issue

There are a number of options available depending on the extent and severity of the problem, including making a formal demand to remove offending material or cease certain actions, or taking urgent injunctive action in the courts. It can sometimes be more effective to pursue a third party host rather than the author, particularly when the author is not easily identifiable. This can often be a relatively straightforward process, such as using a social media provider's 'report abuse' function.

Identify authors

Cyber attacks and internet trolls take steps to hide their identity. One practical tip to help uncover an author's identity is to look at online footprints, such as reverse ISP lookups or internet searches for previous uses of usernames.

Consider pursuing a claim

Issuing formal proceedings through the courts is usually only appropriate in more serious cases. If the problem has stopped, you should carefully consider what bringing a claim would practically achieve. The defendant may not have the resources to pay the costs you incur in order to bring the claim (which could be significant), let alone damages, and matters may also be further complicated if the defendant is outside of the jurisdiction. You should balance the inevitable risks of litigation against the harm that has been (or is continuing to be) caused by the problem.

How can we help

If your family business encounters a problem online, the experienced reputation management team at VWV can support you through every step of the process and help you assess your options. The team can also review and advise on company policies and provide training to staff to reduce the risk of any reputational issues arising.

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