On Sunday, more than 100 media outlets reported the first sensational news from the Panama Papers – a huge array of documents exposing global tax evasion by heads of state and high-net worth individuals around the world.
As reporters, analysts, and tax authorities sift through this leak, there will undoubtedly be a steady drumbeat of startling headlines with the potential to more than rattle governments, billionaires, boards, and global executives.
When Daniel Ellsberg leaked the Pentagon Papers to The New York Times in 1971, he had to photocopy 7,000 pages of top secret Vietnam War Documents. Technology has made what was once laborious now easy. WikiLeaks released 1.8 GB collection of classified State Department documents, nearly 100 times bigger than the Pentagon Papers leak.
Now, the Panama leaker has released 2 terabytes (one million/million) - or almost 12 million documents - and all he likely had to do was to insert a drive and click.
Many honest companies and high-profile individuals will undoubtedly be tarred by association in the Panama Papers case. More to the point, hackers and insiders can now Hoover-up every potential bit of data from a corporation or high-profile person in order to zero in on something that looks off or is embarrassing.
We are now in the "Era of Mega Leaks," one that puts names and brands at greater risks than ever before.
What I've learned from years of managing crisis, brands and reputation is that the old PR “hunker down” playbook doesn’t cut it anymore.
A company – or a high-profile individual – must assess vulnerability, to know as much about oneself as a potential attacker. Only with such an audit – accompanied with modern digital strategies and action maps -- can they be proactively prepared, and be ready to aggressively pre-empt or contextualize stolen information.
That’s what we do for clients. This is what business, government leaders and brands need to be thinking about today.