'Honesty': Estes details its playbook for responding to a cyberattack – Cybersecurity Dive

Dive Brief:

  • The cyberattack on Estes Express Lines taught the company a valuable lesson that bucked typical advice from attorneys and tech advisers in such scenarios: Publicize what’s happening as much as possible.
  • Disclosing the attack on Oct. 3 and providing regular video updates engendered sympathy, honesty and offers of assistance from customers and colleagues, President and COO Webb Estes and CIO Todd Florence said in another video shared Wednesday in response to media questions.
  • “Once we were honest with them, they were honest with us,” Estes said. “It feels really good when a customer’s like, ‘Hey, this happened to me, too. How can I help you?’”

Dive Insight:

After discovering what Florence called “outside actor activity” on its network on Oct. 1, the privately-owned, Richmond, Virginia-based company shut down systems and issued a “tech outage” alert but mostly kept quiet publicly.

But in a meeting about 48 hours into the response, frustrated Estes leaders decided that strategy didn’t serve its customers or employees — or fit its company values, which include honesty.

“Now, are there things we couldn’t say? Sure,” Webb Estes said. “But as soon as we were getting to a point where we knew things, we were going to tell our customers that. I would recommend and encourage any company that goes through this: They need to follow their culture, and I would hope their culture would be one of honesty.”

It didn’t only a have feel-good effect, either. Publicly acknowledging the cyberattack accelerated the company’s response by opening the lines of communication, the president and COO said.

“Once you can speak honestly, it’s amazing how much [faster] things can go,” he said. “You’re not trying to play two sides. Everyone’s on the same team: ‘How are we going to get through this together?’”

Such openness pays dividends among a company’s workforce during a tense time, Florence said.

“It changed the attitude in the room,” the CIO said. “Even if it feels inappropriate at times when you’re dealing with a crisis like this, the ability to joke, and laugh, and work together helped accelerate our timelines quite a bit, because we could be open with each other.”

While Estes declined to share details on the financial impact of customers’ freight diversions, the company president said the carrier’s systems are fully restored and nearly all the business has returned.


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