How Advertising Mogul Martin Sorrell Responded to his Company’s Cyberattack

Sir Martin Sorrell, WPP Chairman and CEO

Many commentators have suggested it’s a matter of if, not when, every company will be hit by a cyberattack.

Now, it’s just happened to the world’s biggest advertising firm, offering executives insight into how the best in the public relations business would deal with the fallout.

London-based WPP wasted little time informing the public of the attack, posting a statement on Twitter yesterday just hours after some of its businesses were hit. Updates on Twitter followed this morning, demonstrating the importance of keeping stakeholders enlightened as regularly as possible.

CEO Sir Martin Sorrell also has personally addressed the issue in a memo to staff, which the company offered to Chief Executive today.

We are a group packed full of highly creative, ingenious and dedicated people. I urge you all to put those qualities to use in making sure that what our clients experience in the hours and days ahead is as close to business as usual as we can possibly manage.”

“Many of you will have experienced significant disruption to your work,” Sorrell said. “However, contrary to some press reports, WPP and its companies are still very much open for business.”

WPP is among a number of companies hit by the ransomware, which locks users out of computers unless they pay a fee. The ransomware is thought to be similar to the WannaCry worm that hit hundreds of thousands of computers across the world in May. That virus exploited a vulnerability in Microsoft software, for which a patch was provided in March, though it’s not yet entirely clear how the new virus functions.

Whatever its level of sophistication, this latest attack provides another wake-up call for CEOs to take cybersecurity threats seriously.  Multiple surveys indicate that companies globally still have large gaps in their cyber defenses—some of which could be filled simply by updating software, encrypting data and using ad blockers.

Many CEOs, too, remain unsure of their role and responsibilities in managing cyberattacks. A recent survey commissioned by security firm Tanium of 1,530 senior executive and nonexecutive directors in the U.S., UK and Japan found that more than 90% couldn’t even read a cybersecurity report and were not prepared to handle a breach.

Sorrell hasn’t yet provided much detail on how the virus works because he’s presumably waiting for more accurate information from authorities before informing the public.

In the meantime, he said WPP is working with IT partners and law enforcement agencies to take precautionary measures, restore affected services and minimize the impact on clients, partners and employees.

Other companies to say they’ve been hit include Russian oil giant Rosneft, Danish shipping group Maersk, U.S. drug maker Merck, food company Mondelez and law firm DLA Piper.

Here’s the full transcript of Sorrell’s staff memo:

As you know, organizations around the world have been hit by a cyberattack. A number of WPP companies—though not all—have been affected.

We are working with our IT partners and law enforcement agencies to assess the situation, take all precautionary steps and return to normal operations as soon as we can. At this time, we have no indication that either employee or client data has been compromised. As you would expect, our companies and teams are in contact with clients on an ongoing basis.

Many of you will have experienced significant disruption to your work. However, contrary to some press reports, WPP and its companies are still very much open for business.

We are a group packed full of highly creative, ingenious and dedicated people. I urge you all to put those qualities to use in making sure that what our clients experience in the hours and days ahead is as close to business as usual as we can possibly manage. 

The IT teams in all our companies affected, coordinated by the Group IT function, are working hard to balance the need to protect our systems and the need to bring them back online in a timely fashion. The approach and solution will vary from company to company. It is crucial that you give them your full cooperation and support, and follow their instructions.

Thank you.
Martin.

PARTNER CENTER