IT IS NOT PERSONAL, IT IS UNIVERSAL
“What happened to your brand?” Is a question I am asked often. I don’t think about the incident now. However, I understand there is a curiosity for people to want to know more.
THE SHORT ANSWER
In 2018, I was deeply affected by multiple cyber crimes and identity theft. As a result, I was forced to eliminate my digital presence for a year and manage a daily routine without the internet, a cell phone, or email. As an independent entrepreneur, I studied, designed, traveled, researched, employed, and created an emerging online brand. And in a day, it was completely gone.
Cyberbullying, cyber security, identity theft and online privacy are common buzzwords in the media today. However, there is very little support related to these topics and why I share my story. I believe a new spotlight needs to be put on these modern-day issues. My ordeal is not personal, it is universal. No person or company, big or small is immune.
I understand the harsh consequences of being targeted online, and how it feels to lose trust entirely. Yet from this defining experience, I have grown and learned “…how you react to a negative situation, can in turn have a positive impact…” By changing my perspective, I found security in uncertainty and rebuilt the business one step at a time.
THE LONG ANSWER
On January 10, 2018, I received 20 minutes of continuous calls on my cell phone. During this time, an iPhone was fraudulently purchased online with my credit card and picked up at an Apple store with a false ID. Initially, I just thought my credit card had been compromised. Quickly I learned the theft was extremely more alarming. The hackers manipulated my email, social media and opened new accounts in foreign languages. Immediately reporting the incident to police, I got new devices, phone number, and set up new accounts. However, a second cyber attack occurred weeks later. My entire online privacy was breached, and the business was in ruins. At this point, I realized the crimes were intentional to emotionally traumatize and sabotage the brand.
Determined to find a solution, I called every company connected to the business. Apple responded, “the breach is bigger than them”. I thought, who is bigger than a trillion-dollar company? AT&T, RCN, and Facebook all responded with the same answer, “We can’t help you.” I then spoke with federal authorities in person. Their exact words, “You were compromised by two sophisticated cyber crimes. Trash your devices, completely remove yourself from the internet and go dark.”
I could not comprehend the dire instructions from the authorities. The business was my passion, my identity and my income. As an entrepreneur, I had faced many obstacles before and prevailed. Yet this incident left me struggling in my personal, professional and financial situation. Moving between despair and outrage, I realized I had two choices. Allow myself to be overpowered or change my perspective and become empowered. Even though I wanted to give up and run, I accepted my extreme situation exactly where I was - in NYC - a city that never sleeps. I choose to focus on all the good around me and found serenity in my chaotic surroundings. Stillness in Manhattan, without digital communication was my routine for more than a year.
In the silence, I recognized a collective consciousness is missing in our world today. Imagine, if Fortune 500 companies innovated with compassion for the united good, we ‘the human race’ would have a much brighter story. ‘Individually’ and ‘collectively’ we are all tethered to these amazing and powerful technology companies to connect, communicate and thrive. Our lifestyles are impulsive and digitally dependent, yet there is not a system in place to provide support when technology is used with immoral intentions. The reality is we need Urgent Cyber Care Clinics in every town, to help individuals reestablish the health of their devices, digital footprint and online privacy when a data breach occurs, which happens 24/7 in modern parts of the world.
After a year of investigating, I do not know who perpetrated the vicious online attacks. However, what I did discover was the most important answer…who I am.
Living in Italy and NYC, building a modern luxury brand inspired by nature, culture, Italian craftsmanship and driven by NYC’s ambitious energy. I was hustling at 110 mph like every other New Yorker, yet life was listening to my every thought. Deep down I carried fear, uncertainty and self-doubt. These thoughts were on repeat in my subconscious and came true. It is hard to admit, yet everything I was doing was unknown, as I leaped into a foreign country and unfamiliar industry to create a new business. I thought I was experienced, after working on Wall Street at the NYSE for seven years. Now, I understand I was leading with a huge ego and then it was shattered.
In NYC, it is easy to get caught up in the energy and become addicted to the pressure to get things done, do more and strive to be the best. Like most city dwellers, I was powered by a demanding schedule, constantly planning my next dinner date, business meeting, personal goal and vacation; even though I knew I needed to slow down and enjoy the journey. Well, life manifested it perfectly. I was forced to function off the grid, as if it was the 1800’s. I experienced many months of humbled nothingness yet chose to enjoy each moment. I wrote letters to communicate and my fixation with the business, social media, technology and to-do-list all became non-existent. In the letting go, I found clarity.
At first furious, then I paused and consciously changed my reaction. I realized what had happened was an incredible opportunity. I spent time within. I prioritized self-care, connected with close friends and depended on my family. All which taught me profound lessons of giving, receiving, integrity, resilience and sincere gratitude.
Some may cringe or wonder why I share the details. It takes strength to be open and vulnerable. Yet I have learned, accepting and owning our true self, makes it easier to see good and do good for ourselves and others. We each have a story.
Nature is my reminder to put down my phone, ideally not for a year. And when I take a moment each day to pause, look and listen, I become more aware of beauty and greatness everywhere! ‘Nature does not hurry, yet everything is accomplished,” Lao Tzu.
Unafraid, with a new perspective and purpose Chandra Keyser is open for business.