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The Wiki-leaks scandal and what it means for business

Unless you’ve had your head in the sand for the last week, the WikiLeaks scandal has been difficult to avoid. Since its launch in 2006, WikiLeaks has been responsible for the release of previously confidential documents and videos pertaining to extra-judicial killings and disappearances in Kenya, the killing of Iraqi civilians and journalists and the ‘Afghan War Diary’, a compilation of more than 76,900 documents about the war in Afghanistan that had not previously been made public. It is the latest release of US diplomatic cables however that has caused the greatest fall-out, both within the political sphere and beyond.The cables reveal much about the way that American diplomats view both political leaders and political situations around the world and the language they use in most cases could be deemed more damaging that the content of the leaks themselves. For example French Prime Minister Nicola Sarkozy is painted as an egotistical, erratic leader prone to temper tantrums and Gordon Brown’s leadership was condemned just a year in with the cables describing an “abysmal track record” that had left him going from “political disaster to disaster”- just two examples from many more in the cables, each as politically damaging as the last.

As governments around the world set about attempting political damage limitation on a scale never seen before, the WikiLeaks story continues on its way with more scandal and sleaze than a bad American soap opera. With its founder Julian Assange now detained on charges of rape and denied bail pending a hearing on December 14, and with organisations such as Visa and Paypal stopping people being able to make donations to WikiLeaks, a group of “hacktivists” has spent the last week hacking these sites to show the world where their loyalties lie.

With so many businesses- both large and small relying on sites such as Visa and PayPal for their eCommerce, losing just one day of business can be damaging to say the least. At the end of November Assange had told members of the press that his next target would be the banking system. He said: “Wikileaks means it’s easier to run a good business and harder to run a bad business, and all CEOs should be encouraged by this.”

He added, “There’s a threat of regulation that produces self-regulation. It just means that it’s easier for honest CEOs to run an honest business, if the dishonest businesses are more affected negatively by leaks than honest businesses. That’s the whole idea. In the struggle between open and honest companies and dishonest and closed companies, we’re creating a tremendous reputational tax on the unethical companies.”

There are certainly lessons to be learned here- for big business and small businesses alike. Let’s take a look at the BIP’s top 5.

  1. Get I.N. with I.T: If we’ve learned nothing else we should learn that hell hath no fury like a hacker scorned. If you want to keep your website, your servers and your data secure make sure you remember the I.T department’s Christmas card this year and avoid any unfortunate leaks of your own.
  2. Storm clouds on the horizon: If you’re using someone else’s servers, check their terms and conditions. WikiLeaks was recently kicked off Amazon’s servers once they were questioned by congress about their connection with the site. As a result, hacktivists then turned their attention to hacking the Amazon site but were unsuccessful
  3. Get hacked! This is where your lovely, talented, hard-working I.T. team comes into play again (compliments like this will help with you keeping on top of Point 1.) Keep your website and your data secure by finding out if you are easily hacked then make any necessary adjustments to make sure this can’t be done in the future.
  4. One man’s frankness is another man’s vulgarity: When writing to colleagues, about colleagues, to clients, or about clients to colleagues keep it clean and respectful. The fall-out from the WikiLeaks scandal has been global, but to you and your business it can be just as serious.
  5. Protect your rep: Never underestimate how important both your personal and professional actions are when doing business. The way your personality comes across, the companies you affiliate yours with and the way in which you go about business can lose you the deal just as easily as cutting ties to organisations (like WikiLeaks and PayPal and Visa) can put your companies’ security at risk when things go sour.
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