The tactics of fear
23 June 2014 | 0
“What did you do back in the Y2K crisis, Daddy?”
“That’s a good question, son. I remember 11:59:59pm on 31 December 1999 as if it was only yesterday. For a brief second, people were afraid to fly in an airplane or step into a lift. They were all terrified the planes would suddenly plummet from the sky, lifts would drop like a stone and all the street lights and traffic lights would go out. It was a horrible moment.”
“What did happen, Daddy?”
“Nothing, son, nothing at all. Oh, wait, I forgot, a lot of IT companies and consultants made a lot of money. That’s why we live in a big house.”
The Y2K bug represents an extreme example of what is commonly referred to as FUD (fear, uncertainty and doubt). No one knows whether all the money expended on correcting the bug was actually well spent or not. Some argue it obviously was because nothing happened at 00:00:01 on 1 January 2000. But others say nothing would have happened anyway.
But it does provide ammunition for those critics who accuse IT companies, fairly or unfairly, of being quick to exploit a threat as an opportunity to make money. This is partly reflected in the vocabulary that vendors and channel partners tend to use among themselves when reacting to reports of security breaches or failures. Too often, the word used is ‘opportunity’. It’s no wonder there is a level of cynicism attached to the IT industry (and security in particular) when people believe suppliers all too often view a potential threat to their customer base as an opportunity, rather than a problem.
In other words, is the IT industry selling hope or fear? Or both (‘fope’ or ‘hear’)? Gerry Harvey, general manager at Commtech quotes Charles Revson, founder of Revlon who said: “In the factory we make cosmetics; in the store we sell hope.” In the IT world, he argues, vendors make lots of products and the channel’s skill is to challenge the user “to adopt the most suitable product or solution set of products”.
He argues that “trading on fear is a short term play” but fear can be a reaction to the threats facing a business “and sometimes the reseller will have to address that fear. A more constructive approach is to help customers grow their value proposition – whether cutting time to market for new products, lowering some cost aspect of primary production or support service delivery activities.”
Michael Conway, director at Renaissance, doesn’t think FUD actually works as a strategy and claims the proof is there for everyone to see. “The great thing about FUD is that it doesn’t really matter how often you say it to people, they still ignore you,” he says. “They still don’t back up and they still give out to you when they say ‘surely you can recover it’ and you tell them you can’t. It shouldn’t be FUD we’re talking about, it should be common sense and why it’s not common.”
Conway says FUD is obviously ineffective if companies are still failing to take on the basics of backing up and taking data offsite. He accepts that the tactics of fear are used (over-used to some extent), “but they have to be continually used to try and express the fact to people that changes continue to be made. A lot of people continue to ignore the advice they’re given”.