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Minimizing Online-Video Security Risks

Bad Guys Can Subvert Your Web-Video Efforts

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Purveyors of music videos, skateboarding dogs and wedding fiascos can get away with posting their videos on YouTube without much thought to the notion of online security. But what about the brand marketer that has a "reputation to protect" both online and offline? Shouldn't the latter be interested in not only how its customers can be affected when downloading or viewing videos, but also in how hackers might alter or affect the company's online presence?

With the exception of a few reports on how hackers were embedding malicious code in online video players on sites like YouTube, little attention has been paid to the vulnerability of companies that use online video as a marketing tool. That false sense of security won't last, according to Michelle Drolet, CEO at Towerwall, a Framingham, Mass.-based security consultancy.

"It should be a big concern because YouTube is a free-for-all," warns Drolet. "Nothing is trademarked, so who says someone won't download the video, alter it and send it back out for even more people to see?"

Marketers looking to protect their brands' reputations online need to consider this and other possible breaches before uploading video to the Web in order to keep their information and their customers secure in the online video environment. Here are four key security strategies to integrate into your online video strategy:

1. If Someone Can See It, They Can Steal It
It doesn't take an experienced hacker to download a video from the Web, alter it and then upload it for everyone to see. In fact, Chris Savage, CEO at Lexington, Mass.-based business video sharing firm Wistia, says just about anyone can use a camera to record the video right from the screen and do with it what they will. And while it would be impossible to control what others are doing with the online video, companies can avoid security breaches by controlling the distribution (via password protection), or by simply not posting information that's proprietary or potentially damaging.

2. Don't Offer the Whole Enchilada
Instead of posting a 5-minute video clip of your company's upcoming product release, why not just give the audience a snippet and then invite the crowd back to your Web site to learn more? Savage says several companies are using this strategy successfully online, and effectively controlling content integrity as a result. "Put a teaser on YouTube, and then drive customers back to your site for more videos and information," says Savage. "This will allow you to manage the distribution and control your branding."

3. Target Your Audience
Just as the most successful companies hone their advertising messages to specific audience groups, firms looking to avoid security breaches online can control exactly who accesses their videos. Using a service like Wistia, for example, companies can post their videos online and then send out e-mails to a targeted distribution list that then accesses the clips via password-protected links. "This is a great way to ensure that your videos are secure," says Drolet, "and that the copyrighted video stays intact."

4. Make Security a Priority
An online video security initiative is only as good as a firm's overall information-technology security plan, and will only be successful if all employees and managers are involved. And while firewalls, software patch updates, employee education and strong company policies are important aspects of any security program, the computer users themselves tend to be the weakest link in any security program. "Develop a user-awareness program that takes into account the protection of company systems via frequent scans for malware, botnets and other possible security breaches," advises Drolet, "and that also addresses the protection of the customers who are viewing the online video."

Whether you're putting videos out to the entire online world and hoping for the best, or keeping things closer to the vest through a password-protected strategy that targets only your current and prospective customers, the best security program involves awareness (of what's out there, ready to pounce) and education (on what's coming around the next corner, and how to handle it). Much like you would protect your firm's intellectual property, brand equity or other valuable assets, you should be vigilant when it comes to sharing videos with the world via the Internet. Timothy R. Hawthorne is chairman and executive creative director of Hawthorne Direct Inc., a full-service DRTV and New Media ad agency founded in 1986. A 35-year television producer/writer/director, Hawthorne is a cum laude Harvard graduate.