Hacked Creativity? How Cyber Security Threats Impact Artists

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Hacked Creativity? How Cyber Security Threats Impact Artists

The creative industries have undergone a rapid shift thanks to digitisation. The emergence of cutting-edge cloud-based storage, automation and artificial intelligence (AI) tools has allowed creatives from all walks of life to innovate and enhance how they work while alleviating themselves from many arduous, repetitive, and time-consuming tasks.

Creative professionals sector-wide have become increasingly empowered by digital solutions to improve workflows, remain competitive and deliver services to their clients. From graphic designers and illustrators to photographers, videographers, and musicians, the importance of creative input cannot be understated, even in the tech-dominant marketplace of today. However, the heavy reliance on digital solutions also exposes creatives - and, by extension, their clients - to a growing array of cyber security threats and risks. 

The cyber threat landscape is growing at an alarmingly quick rate, with global cybercrime costing an estimated $10.5 trillion annually by 2025 (a growth rate of 15% year-on-year). Failing to adopt a security-first mindset can have severe consequences for creative work quality, productivity, finances, client relationships, reputations, and livelihoods. As malicious actors continue to evolve and refine their attack methods and tactics, creative professionals risk falling behind in the race to maintain secure digital assets and processes. Creatives must be vigilant in safeguarding data, systems, and processes, and need to remain both adaptable and well informed about all of the developments in the cyber threat landscape, to maintain stability in the digital age. This short guide explores what types of risks creatives face and some simple and cost-effective steps to improve their cyber posture.

Types of cyber risks facing creative professionals in 2024

Creative work encompasses a broad spectrum of professionals, from visual storytellers to wordsmiths, all of whom can offer insights, perspectives, and assets to help businesses remain competitive in their sectors. Whether they are self-employed freelancers or are part of a full-service marketing agency offering B2B services, their input and expertise are often crucial for helping businesses scale, especially if they have little to no in-house infrastructure to develop compelling advertising materials and refine their long-term marketing strategies. 

It’s been waxed lyrical time and time again, about how photography can elevate brand presence, how delivering engaging website content helps visibility in organic search, and how maintaining an active presence on social media can foster greater engagement and enquiries. The creators and strategists behind this - often outsourced - marketing help are invariably well-versed in capturing audience pain points and delivering ideas that strengthen business-customer relationships. 

In today’s competitive marketplace, where instant action and innovation are valued highly, technology and digital solutions prove invaluable and irreplaceable. As such, creatives must be cognizant of the security risks that come with using them ad infinitum, and not be blinded by delusions of grandeur. For all the benefits that automation and generative AI offer creatives and their workflows, it’s important to look beneath the surface and understand the risks they could face if not careful.

As more creative professionals leverage digital tools, cloud-based editing software, online portfolio databases, remote file storage, and other online platforms to create, collaborate, and showcase their work, their attack surface grows. Exercising proper security and awareness is vital to safeguard themselves and their work from cyber breaches. 

  1. Targeted attacks on creative assets

As a starting point, malicious third-party attackers may opportunistically target design files, music tracks, or other valuable digital assets. They may be financially motivated to hold such files for ransom or to steal or leak intellectual property as an act of defiance - the reasons could be endless. Depending on the sensitivity and perceived value of your assets, the repercussions could be severe, not to mention the workflow disruption an attack would cause and the potential loss of income should they not be distributed via valid, approved channels.

  1. Reputation and trust at risk

Depending on the severity, a cyber breach can significantly damage a creative’s reputation and client trust. If a creative agency or professional is found to have their digital infrastructure hacked, it could send a message that they do not value security highly. As such, existing and prospective clients may prove more hesitant to work with a creative whose security has been compromised, even if they have addressed that it’s happened. Sensitive or classified client project or product information may be entrusted to a creative and if that system is breached, it could spell disaster for the client. The knock-on effect that a breach can have on a client-supplier relationship is worth paying heed to.

  1. Emerging threats in the digital art space

Emerging markets like blockchain-based digital art platforms and NFTs (non-fungible tokens) introduce a wealth of new cyber security challenges for creatives. The perceived value of art can instigate widespread theft and compromise of both the art itself and the creator’s online presence. Hackers may target those working in NFTs as they know that artists may not be overly familiar with the threat landscape or best practices. They can therefore often gain control of a victim’s assets through carefully crafted phishing campaigns via email or social media.

Steps to protect creative work and online reputation

To mitigate common risks such as ransomware, phishing, malware, and social engineering that pose dangers to your creative assets, it’s vital to prioritize cyber hygiene from the outset. The best part is that artists and creative professionals don’t have to spend through the nose to achieve a stronger security posture and ensure the long-term stability of their work, reputation, and relationships.

  1. Strong password policies & MFA

The first step is to implement a strong, unique password policy across all your internal accounts, backed up by multi-factor authentication (MFA). Mandate that all clients that require access to shared drives and assets create unique logins and strong passwords containing a mixture of capital and lowercase letters, numbers, and special characters, to make compromise harder. 

Consider using an approved password manager to generate and store complex passwords and be sure to review access permissions for all collaborators regularly.

  1. Deploy secure backup solutions

The importance of secure cloud-based and off-site backups is well-documented. Regularly backup all digital files, client data, ongoing projects, together with business and financial records

Using an approved, reputable cloud storage solution that offers robust security features, round-the-clock support, and managed updates and patching will help to ensure data integrity. To achieve complete peace of mind, however, consider investing in dedicated external servers and hard drives that can offer an additional layer of protection.

  1. Social engineering awareness training

Train yourself - and your team, if applicable - on the best ways to recognise phishing attempts, malicious links, and other common social engineering tactics. Education is the best weapon you can have in your arsenal.

Train yourself and your team to recognize phishing attempts, malicious links, and other social engineering tactics. Equipping yourself with some essential skills can help verify email message authenticity and security before immediately and instinctively responding or taking action.

  1. Reliable protection software and policies

Invest in stable, enterprise-grade antivirus and malware protection software to ensure the safety of all systems, applications and files. Make sure to keep all digital tools and platforms updated with security patches, and consider engaging with other vendors if certain apps and tools are no longer supported. 

Consider consulting with third-party cyber security consultants to conduct risk assessments and develop a comprehensive incident response plan. Make sure to explore cyber insurance policies that can help mitigate and minimize the financial impact of a breach or attack.

The growing prevalence of cyber security threats and third-party attacks poses a range of obstacles for artists and creative professionals across all marketing disciplines. The digital nature of modern creative services leaves these individuals and their work vulnerable to a range of malicious attacks. However, by proactively preparing and embracing a security-first mindset, creatives can safeguard their assets, presence, relationships, and reputation, thereby maintaining a much-needed competitive edge in the market today.