Target breach notifications are a perfect example of what not to do

It's bad enough that Target allowed more than 100 million accounts to be compromised, but its response is an exercise in poor judgment

Hopefully your company will never be the victim of a massive data breach. If it is, though, and customer data is compromised, make sure you don't follow Target's lead when it comes to notifying customers. Target's customer notification efforts are wrong on almost every level.

Customers are conditioned to not click on links in email messages. In the wake of a massive data breach like Target experienced, phishing scams often try to exploit the heightened awareness by sending out emails that look very legitimate.

Security experts warn users to specifically avoid such emails following a data breach, and remind users that a legitimate, reputable company would not send you an email and ask you to click on a link.

Apparently, Target did not get that memo.

James Lyne, global head of security for Sophos, received an email from Target--although he claims that he is not even a Target customer. There are apparently many people receiving breach notification emails from Target who did not shop at Target and are not affected by the breach.

Lyne dissected the email in a post on Forbes, breaking down point by point all the ways Target failed. It uses a shady subdomain--"" rather than just ""--and directs users to click on a link comprised of endless gibberish. The email is distributed using a ridiculously suspicious-looking email address. In a nutshell, there is nothing about the legitimate breach notification email from Target that differentiates it in any way from a reasonably well-crafted phishing attack.

"What hope do users have of making a decision about the legitimacy of emails when the good guys behave like this?" asks Lyne. "Target needs to look closely at how it rebuilds consumer trust and suspicious looking emails is not going to help."

Try this

If you ever find your company in the unfortunate position of needing to notify customers of a data breach and possible compromise of personal information, this is not how you do it. The notification email should originate from a domain that is instantly identifiable as your company. If your Web domain is "", the notification email should come from "<SomeRelevantAddress>".

The notification should be just that--a notification. It should clearly state the facts of the incident, and explain in simple terms what information is potentially compromised, and what customers can do to determine if they're affected, and what they should do to protect themselves and their personal data. It can provide a phone number for customers to call, but it should not contain a link that customers are expected to click on for any reason.

We can excuse Target to some extent for being the unfortunate victim of such a massive data breach. It's response to the breach, however, and these very shady customer notification emails, are inexcusable.

Join the CMO newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.
Show Comments

Supporting Association

Blog Posts

People in vegan houses shouldn't throw bacon

Picture this. You’re at a Gourmerican burger joint chomping a cheeseburger, when an outspoken vegan friend starts preaching that you’re killing the planet. Last week, that same vegan downed a pricey glass of pinot before their flight to a far-flung destination, armed with their strongest mossie repellant and first aid kit. Anything amiss?

Abbie Love

Strategist, Ikon Communications

The role of the CMO is evolving: Are you keeping up?

My (amazing) vacation in the Galapagos Islands earlier in the year got me thinking about Charles Darwin and his theory of evolution. What does this have to do with the role of today’s CMO, you ask? Plenty.

Sheryl Pattek

Vice-president, executive partner

Getting your business ready for the Entrepreneurial Consumer

We all know the digital revolution has completely transformed the way consumers are interacting with brands, and that a lot of businesses are finding it hard to catch up. One way to closing this brand gap is to understand consumer behaviour and build a brand experience that meets these new needs.

Pip Stocks

CEO and founder, BrandHook


Kerry Edwards

Open Colleges taps into social for better student interaction

Read more

Or just go to sites like www.shopsthatshiptoaustralia.c... and others and be sure that the stores will send to where you live :-)


Why online shopping is like dating – RedBalloon CEO

Read more

Personalisation is the key. Customers demand a very relatable and well defined CX where the sincerity and understanding of their disposit...

Hitesh Parekh

In pictures: Improving cutomer experiences through smart personalisation

Read more

Thanks for this. The key for me is the effective of governance where it dictates and sets the proactive policy when it comes to CX. Tech ...

Hitesh Parekh

6 lessons in modern marketing from a customer experience chief

Read more

Very well said “With today’s consumers more demanding of the brands and merchants they shop, it’s imperative for merchants to not just co...


CMO's top 10 martech stories for this week - 29 September

Read more

Latest Podcast

More podcasts

Sign in