Corporations That Fake Social Responsibility at Greater Risk of Cyber Attacks

January 6, 2022

Corporations that do not take their vows to address environmental, cultural, social and political issues seriously could be putting a target on their backs for hackers and placing their firms at greater risking of cyber attacks.

Hackers are getting more adept at “sniffing out” companies that claim to care about social responsibility, but in fact have a history of poor corporate social responsibility practices, such as subpar employee relations, product safety concerns and involvement in an environmental controversy, according to a university study.

Research (Too Good to Be True: Firm Social Performance and the Risk of Data Breach) by the University of Delaware’s John D’Arcy shows that companies that engage in so-called “greenwashing” tactics are more likely to draw the ire of hackers, resulting in increased risk of data breach and other types of cyber intrusions.

“It seems that hackers have taken on a role as cyber activists, by targeting firms that are disingenuous toward social responsibility,” said D’Arcy, a professor of accounting and management information systems in UD’s Lerner College of Business and Economics.

D’Arcy warns that companies should be cautious about promoting what he terms “peripheral” corporate responsibility practices — sometimes called “greenwashing”— if they have otherwise poor records on corporate social issues. Peripheral actions are seen as a firm attempting to give the appearance of social responsibility without infusing such practices throughout their entire organization. Examples of peripheral practices might include charitable donations or recycling.

In contrast, diversity initiatives and making eco-friendly products are examples of socially responsible practices that are seen as embedded throughout a firm’s core business.

D’Arcy has cited hacks against the World Health Organization around its actions related to the COVID-19 pandemic as an example. He cites Walmart as a firm that has been accused of greenwashing for touting its investments in charitable and environmental causes while at the same time it is being criticized for paying low wages and neglecting investments in working environment.

On the other hand, the study found that firms that have more meaningful corporate responsibility practices face a lower risk of hacks and data breaches.

The study found that hackers may include internal disgruntled employees as well as external hacktivist groups.

Source: University of Delaware

Topics Cyber

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