home-depot-breach

There’s no doubt that technology is both the blessing and the curse of modern life – and modern consumer PR. Ronn Torossian says the latest brand to learn this lesson the hard way is Home Depot. The home improvement giant certainly benefits from allowing customers to pay with plastic, as do most retailers. But the company has released a statement saying as many as 56 million payment cards “may have been” compromised due to a “massive cyber breach” of the businesses’ payment network.

That’s a lot of frustrated home improvers. The breach, which now holds the dubious title of “Worse than Target,” has consumers reconsidering the convenience versus risk associated with plastic payments.

According to the report, Home Depot said “customized malware” may have been present on its network as far back as April 2014. They discovered the breach on September 2. Worse, the company had to find out about the breach after industry watchdogs publicized information from banks associated with the network. That set off a firestorm of questions Home Depot was woefully ill equipped to answer. Now, weeks after the fact, the company’s PR team has released its first lengthy statement.

The report did stipulate that only brick and mortar stores were affected. According to the release, no online buyers were put at risk. While Home Depot claims the malware has been removed and is no longer a risk, consumers are still concerned. Now two major US retailers have been successfully infiltrated, so smart money says more will fall sooner rather than later.

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These entirely valid concerns should trigger next steps for every major American retailer that accepts credit or debit cards. First, they should step up their protection and detection efforts, not leaving it to outsiders and banks to catch the digital bad guys. Second, the companies need to redouble their communication efforts to assure their customers of the safety of their networks. Details aren’t necessary—the average consumer wouldn’t understand them anyway. But simple and clear reassurances are necessary. Because the next big box store to get hit may trigger plummeting consumer trust that would take years to fully recover and if it did they would have to do something drastic to recover. If they end up in this situation, to work towards regaining the trust of its consumers, they might want to consider using a company that offers cybersecurity. There are many companies that offer this, however, one example would be Fraud Watch International (which can be found at fraudwatchinternational.com). These services can be used to help outsource their cybersecurity needs to ensure that this won’t happen again. Otherwise, the industry might see an unfortunate decline and this is something which businesses don’t want to happen. So it is better to make sure that things like card transactions are secure when people are making a purchase at a store.

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Ronn Torossian is the founder and CEO of 5W Public Relations, one of the largest independently-owned PR firms in the United States. With over 20 years of experience crafting and executing powerful narratives, Torossian is one of America's most prolific and well-respected Public Relations professionals. Since founding 5WPR in 2003, he has led the company's growth, overseeing more than 175 professionals in the company's headquarters in midtown Manhattan. With clients spanning corporate, technology, consumer and crisis, in addition to digital marketing and public affairs capabilities, 5WPR is regularly recognized as an industry leader and has been named "PR Agency of the Year" by the American Business Awards on multiple occasions. Throughout his career, Torossian has worked with some of the world's most visible companies, brands and organizations. His strategic, resourceful approach has been recognized with numerous awards including being named the Stevie American Business Awards 2020 Entrepreneur of the Year, the American Business Awards PR Executive of the Year, twice over, an Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year semi-finalist, Metropolitan Magazine's Most Influential New Yorker, and a 2020 Top Crisis Communications Professional by Business Insider. Torossian is known as one of the country's foremost experts on crisis communications, and is called on to counsel blue chip companies, top business executives and entrepreneurs both in the United States and worldwide. Torossian has lectured on crisis PR at Harvard Business School, appears regularly on CNN & CNBC, was named to PR Week's "40 under Forty" list, is a contributing columnist for Forbes and the New York Observer, and his book, "For Immediate Release: Shape Minds, Build Brands, and Deliver Results With Game-Changing Public Relations" is an industry best-seller. A NYC native, Torossian lives in Manhattan with his children. He is a member of Young Presidents Organization (YPO), and active in numerous charities.