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Brand Protection

Guide to Protecting Your Brand Online

With brand attacks and scams on the rise around the world, brand protection is business-critical. 

ZeroFox’s Brand Protection Trend Report highlighted that digital threats against brands increased by 164% between the first and second quarters of 2023. It's already challenging for your brand to increase sales and gain recognition in today's competitive market. Online brand abuses, such as copying your products, fake reviews, similar-name websites pretending to be your brand, using your product images without permission, negative SEO, etc., make it more difficult for you to gain profit.

With the rise of brand attacks and scams worldwide, brand protection is not only business-critical; it's also a crucial step for survival and success. Recently, Amazon's Brand Protection Report revealed that they invested more than $1.2 billion and employed over 15,000 people last year to prevent counterfeiting, fraud, and other forms of abuse. Because of the increasing need to safeguard the brand from online abuse, the global online brand protection market is witnessing a big shift toward brand protection in 2024.

What is Online Brand Protection?

Digital brand protection is actively monitoring and taking action against any impersonation, counterfeiting, infringement or any form of malicious activity that can negatively affect your brand. It's basically a combination of strategies to protect the brand’s assets, profit and integrity online.

Why Do Businesses of All Sizes Need Online Brand Protection?

In today's age, where information spreads rapidly online, effective online brand protection strategies are rather a crucial part of risk management for a business of any size to survive. Small businesses are unlikely to face brand impersonation, but the truth is they are more vulnerable targets. Criminals impersonate big brands to exploit their trust and target small brands with poor cybersecurity. Cyberattacks have a big impact on small businesses as they are already struggling to survive the competition. So, what happens when your brand, regardless of size, falls victim to digital abuse?

Reputation Damage and Decreased Customer Trust

81% of customers are less likely to buy again from a brand if they have a data breach. Not just that, customers develop negative opinions if they get tricked by your company's name or logo, even when it's not your fault. Brands not taking the necessary steps might even lead regular customers to avoid their products so as not to fall victim to scams.

Revenue Loss

The lack of digital brand protection can cause revenue loss through lead diversion, lost sales, misdirected complaints or reviews, higher pay-per-click bidding costs, and many other ways.

Risks Consumers’ Safety

Scammers may exploit customers' trust in your brand to steal credit card details or put customers at risk by misusing personal data like addresses and phone numbers. Additionally, counterfeit products, lacking in quality and safety standards, might pose health risks to consumers.

Potential Legal Issues

If anyone uses your company's name or logo for scam or fraud, the company could be held liable for damages. It could lead to your company engaging in costly and time-consuming legal proceedings to protect its assets.

Identifying Common Online Threats To Your Brand Early On

With more people turning to online platforms for purchase, cybercriminals are finding new ways to attack brands. Understanding different forms of malicious brand abuse is essential to protect your business online.

Phishing Attacks

Phishing is when a cyberattacker pretends to be from a trusted company to trick individuals into revealing sensitive information, such as financial information or login credentials. It's the most common form of cybercrime.  

In 2022, 82% of businesses that experienced cyberattacks reported being targeted by phishing attacks or breaches. Then, in 2023 alone, there were around 5 million phishing attacks. The threat is even more severe in 2024. With AI-powered software projected to lead to undetectable phishing attempts, it’s becoming more difficult to detect and prevent.

When a customer falls victim to phishing, they are less likely to engage with the same brand. While a phishing attack that leads to a breach can make other customers or even business partners lose confidence in your brand's credibility, decreasing your market value. So, it's essential to enhance your defense against phishing attacks early on to maintain your integrity.

How To Prevent Phishing Attacks?

  • Use mail authentication methods like DKIM, SPF, and DMARC to verify the source of the email. 
  • Use multi-factor authentication that requires more than two credentials to log in to company accounts. Also, regularly train your employees to keep up with phishing trends.
  • Ensure transparent communication with customers about your brand's typical communication methods and what potential phishing attacks might look like.
  • Track down the phishing websites that are impersonating your brand and report them.

Cybersquatting/Domain Squatting

The term “cybersquatting” means registering domain names that are similar or identical to a brand’s name, trademark name, or service mark to profit from someone else's credibility or popularity. 

The World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) reports an over 7% increase in cybersquatting complaints in 2023 than the previous year and a 68% increase since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.
It can make customers fall victim to data theft or fraud. Even your employees might click a link that looks like the company’s and expose your system to intrusion, making it crucial to protect your domain from cybersquatting.

How To Prevent Cybersquatting?

  • Register your domain as soon as possible to prevent others from taking it. 
  • It's also essential to register your trademark to be able to take legal action against an attacker. 
  • Register a few similar spelling variations of your domain name. Go for other common top-level domains like .net, .biz, .org, etc.
  • Regularly monitor and track down other similar domain names to take action. 
  • Pay attention to the domain's expiry date to avoid being a target to attackers. 

Online Counterfeits

Just around the end of last year, the U.S. Homeland Security Investigations and the NYPD announced the largest-ever seizure of over $1 billion worth of counterfeit goods. 

While it isn't a new issue, the potential misuse of AI by cyber-attackers is putting your brand in a bigger threat. With AI, it is now easier for bad actors to create fake positive reviews of counterfeit products on a large scale and scam customers. 

Counterfeiters selling products at a lower price drive customers away. As customers buy counterfeits or fake products, your company’s revenue drops. Consumers mistake fake products for genuine ones, causing a decline in perceived quality. This impacts their perception of your brand's authenticity and reliability, tarnishing its image. Most importantly, these products can pose risks to consumers' health.

How To Prevent Counterfeiting Of Your Brand?

  • Add unique features like digital watermarks, serialization, QR codes, or barcodes that are difficult to copy.
  • Register your intellectual property like trademark, patent, copyright, design rights, etc. to be able to prove your ownership. Your intellectual property rights (IPR) can later work as a legal shield.
  • Track down counterfeit products and create awareness among customers. Provide straightforward guidelines on how to distinguish your products.

Other Digital Threats Your Brand Should Be Aware Of

There are many more digital threats that you need to be aware of. These include copyright infringement, negative SEO, fake reviews, etc.

Copyright Infringement

This threat involves the unauthorized use of your brand's logos, images, or content. It can put your brand's uniqueness at risk, confuse customers, and even cause legal issues. 

Registering your copyright, using digital rights management (DRM) software, monitoring and reporting copyright infringement are the steps you can follow to get your rightful revenue.

Negative SEO

Negative SEO is any malicious tactic aimed to decrease a brand's search engine rankings. This can include posting fake reviews, building spammy backlinks, hacking a website, publishing your content elsewhere without permission, etc. 

Monitoring your social media mentions, reporting fake social profiles, keeping your website up to date, maintaining a backlink catalog, and protecting your best backlinks are some ways to safeguard your brand from negative SEO.

How To Prevent Online Brand Abuse and Protect Your Brand?

Although the primary ways to prevent most common digital brand abuses are discussed above, it’s best to go through a strategic step-by-step process to establish a strong shield for your brand.

Step 1: Conduct an audit to define your needs 

Start with a brand protection audit, an in-depth assessment to identify potential threats and vulnerabilities online. 

List down Your Brand's Assets and Activities

Make a list of the brand's present online assets, distribution channels, operations, and data sources. Create a repository of logos, slogans, domains, brand terms, sub-brands, endorsed brands, etc. Also, consider the high-profile executives, employees, or VIPs who significantly influence your brand's reputation, as scammers often use familiar faces of your brand to trick consumers.

Mark the Gray Space and Attack Surface

Gray spaces are the online spaces or sites outside your ownership where your brand, consumers, and bad actors actively engage. The assets of these spaces need more frequent monitoring. 

Take inventory of your brand's attack surface. These are the potential points from which a threat actor might extract your brand's data. These online spaces are at higher risk than gray space and require constant monitoring.  

Although a smaller attack surface makes it easier to protect, expanding your brand will increase your digital footprint and result in an increased attack surface. Apart from your data sources, owned domain, and social media accounts, your brand's digital footprint expands every time anyone engages with it.

For example, you might not have a dedicated Reddit forum, but still threat actors might pretend to be your brand representative and target customers who share their experience with your it. Similarly, deep and dark web channels make your brand more prone to digital threats like intellectual property (IP) piracy, counterfeiting, infringement, etc. So, make sure to keep these spaces at the top of the priority list for tackling brand abuse.

List Your Cybersecurity Needs 

Now that you have listed all the assets and weak spots, discuss with your security team about the gaps in the existing protective measures, what challenges the brand might face to prevent them, and what technology or brand protection solution might make it easier to safeguard your business. Also, consider whether a new team is needed or which team members might be the best for monitoring certain sites, etc.

Step 2: Establish Proactive Brand Protection Measures

There are a few proactive protection measures you can take to prevent digital risks early on.

Register Your Brand's Intellectual Property and Domain

Maintaining your brand’s uniqueness is a significant factor in success. Registering your intellectual property, such as a trademark, patent, or copyright, helps maintain your unique brand identity and prevents competitors from using, copying, or profiting from your original invention, design, or content without your permission. It's essential to ensure your legitimate profit as a brand owner.

Moreover, just registering your own domain name isn't enough to make a strong position on the internet for your business, especially if your brand is comparatively new. You’ll need to proactively register domain names and create social media accounts with common variations, misspellings, and homoglyphs to prevent hackers from targeting your brand or executives through “typosquatting” impersonations.

Have a Strong Online Presence

It's a misconception that not having a presence on social media or other channels means no risk on those channels. But the reality is quite the opposite. Impersonation, counterfeiting, and infringement are more likely to happen in a social media channel where your business isn't even present or isn't typically monitored.  

For that reason, it’s a best practice to create accounts on all social media channels for your brands and high profile executives. Get verified on all social media platforms to establish credibility online. It will also improve engagement and rank higher in search results, reducing the risk of your customers falling for impersonation. 

You can set up Google Alert or similar services to monitor your brand mentions across the web. Keep track of all the new spaces where customers talk about your brand. Regularly engage and communicate with customers to make them aware of malicious actors and how to spot them.

Know The Rules and Parameters

If you’re using an external threat protection platform, you need to properly configure threat alert rules and parameters first. For example, you’ll want to set up alert rules that cut through the noise and trigger only when your security team needs to know or take action. 

Categorize the alerts depending on the urgency and impact on your business. It’s critical to minimize false positives and hone in on the threats that pose an immediate security risk. Specify the team member or employee who will receive the notification and ensure that the recipient can take immediate action or knows precisely whom to assign for immediate action.

Step 3: Leverage Continuous Brand Monitoring and Automation

Protecting your company outside the perimeter requires 24/7 online brand protection. It is crucial for security teams and brand owners alike to focus on addressing external threats to their brand, executives, data, and customers.

Monitoring for malicious domains, fake accounts, attack chatter, and account takeover attempts is an effective way to ensure that the only people engaging with your followers, customers, and clients are legitimate. However, the sheer number of brand impersonation attacks online makes them difficult to tackle manually. 

Over the past five years, ZeroFox has found a trend in increased attacks of this nature. In a report published in May 2020 (Addressing the Rise in Phishing and Financial Fraud), ZeroFox observed almost twice the number of malicious domains compared to 2019 figures. In the first half of 2022 alone, ZeroFox observed over 2.7K malicious domains on behalf of customers with over 7.5K unique malicious domains from July 2021 to July 2022. And ZeroFox’s latest brand protection trend report found a nearly 20% increase in spoofed domains in the second quarter of 2023 versus the first quarter.

Without relying on some sort of automation, it would be nearly impossible to detect these brand impersonations at scale, particularly if cyberattackers aren’t using a direct name match. Impersonation detection automation, often used in digital risk protection software, monitors for risky behavior on key accounts.

This includes detection of account takeover attempts and brand abuse, like trademark infringement, logo misuse, piracy, and leaked proprietary content. Through your software, you’ll establish and tune automation rules to watch parked domains and domain registrations for similar keywords through the collection of multiple data sources across the web. This requires a combination of AI analysis and detection of metadata, logos, reverse image searches, and text. 

Furthermore, you’ll need the ability to dive deeper than the surface web to process and analyze information across the deep and dark web. Dark web forums, which brand owners may otherwise be unable to access, house the Underground Economy where your information and protected assets could be up for sale and subject to brand impersonation attacks. Automated monitoring via scraping of these forums can help you uncover attack chatter or sensitive data leaks and breaches that mention brand assets such as IP, product names, and domains.

Step 4: Employ Human Analysis and Intelligence

Due to the sheer volume of raw threat data you need to ingest and analyze, it can be difficult to differentiate what poses an immediate threat. AI models with technology such as computer vision can help reduce the noise and add context, but you still need the critical component of human intelligence for impactful brand intelligence.

Brand intelligence, which is a cyber intelligence function, focuses specifically on protecting an enterprise’s digital presence. Brand intelligence solutions employ humans to collect and analyze data across public and digital platforms, including surface, deep, and dark web, social media, mobile app stores, and more, with a unique focus on identifying risks to the organization’s brand(s), products, and data. 

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Typically, a human SOC analyst team will analyze the data collected by automated methods. They’ll review alerts and triage threat levels and either escalate them to the correct party or provide a deeper level of investigation. Through this process, you’ll gain clarity that just isn’t possible with automation alone. 

Human intelligence will also monitor dark web forums and chat rooms for brand mentions that can help you thwart attacks in the planning phase or quickly identify potential threats or breaches. For example, they’ll help you decipher early warning signs of attacks wherein personal identifying information (PII) has been leaked, etc. 

Human intelligence is also critical for providing contextual recommendations for actioning, such as applying risk scoring for detected threats or facilitating content takedowns.
Human intelligence is especially important when physical security is involved. For example, if there are threats made online targeting your physical location, you’ll need help to efficiently and effectively identify the credibility of threats to inform your response.

Step 5: Implement Adversary Disruption for Threat Remediation

Threat remediation activity has grown significantly. Across all industries, ZeroFox has seen a 94% year-over-year (YoY) increase in scam takedowns submitted and then subsequently removed.

You must pursue various takedown types to disrupt the adversary who is creating the malicious content and scams. These include the takedowns of impersonating social accounts, infringing domains, IP abuse, piracy, etc. Each of these takedowns may require differing steps, such as working with providers, proffering evidence, and following specific processes for removal per that provider’s takedown request policies. 

Taking on this process manually can be time-consuming and expensive. Instead, many organizations choose to either leverage specialized takedown services or rely on services provided by their cybersecurity vendors. For example, removing offending content from social media is a much different process than removing a fraudulent website per the domain host or registrar. It’s a good best practice to establish and maintain provider-specific runbooks that capture the takedown types, policies, and processes needed to prosecute takedowns for each use case effectively. If you decide to work with a managed service provider, it’s important to choose a vendor that specializes in all takedown types.

In addition to takedowns, remediation of brand threats can also come in other forms. For example, remediation may include the addition of known malicious domains to industry block lists (like Google Safe Browsing). When a bad actor attempts an account takeover, remediation may also include triggering other automated actions like locking down branded social accounts. Typically, a managed service provider can execute these actions.

Once you’ve audited your brand’s assets and mapped out your attack surface, you can take a few proactive protection measures. To start, make sure you’ve registered all trademarks and domains and have defined valuable assets as well as use cases. 

If you’re using an external threat protection platform, you’ll also need to properly configure threat alert rules and parameters. For example, you’ll want to set up alert rules that cut through the noise and trigger only when your security team needs to know or take action. It’s critical to minimize false positives and hone in on the threats that pose an immediate security risk.

It doesn’t stop there. You’ll also need to proactively register domain names with common typos. You’ll do the same for social media. Proactive domain name registration and social media account creation with common misspellings, variations, and homoglyphs prevents hackers from targeting your brand or executives through “typosquatting” impersonations. 

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ZeroFox has <span class="text-fox-red">700+ global disruption partners,</span> including the biggest hosts, registrars, and social media platforms

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