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Business Risk Intelligence for Executive Protection

Josh Lefkowitz

Many of the risks facing today’s organizations have given rise to a crucial consideration across all sectors: just because a threat originates on the Internet does not mean its scope of influence will remain restricted to the cyber domain. In response, more organizations are turning to Business Risk Intelligence (BRI) to address not just cyber threats but also a broad spectrum of physical threats — particularly those pertaining to physical security and, more specifically, executive protection.

Although these types of threats can take various forms and pose dangers of varying levels, addressing them effectively requires insight into the Deep & Dark Web communities where physical adversaries congregate and develop their schemes. BRI provides this insight, thereby enabling organizations to address a broad spectrum of physical threats, some of which include: 

• Targeting of mobile devices. The mobile devices that enable most executives to stay connected and store sensitive data are desirable targets for threat actors. Financially-motivated actors have been known to target seemingly high-value mobile devices by either physical theft or cyber compromise to access the device owner’s personal financial information and critical business data. In many cases, threat actors will sell corporate data and trade secrets to competitors or even nation states seeking a larger market share or a favored economic or political advantage. For executives, the compromise of such information can lead to damaged personal and brand reputation, loss of competitive advantage, threats to physical safety posed by disgruntled stakeholders, or worse.

• Terrorism. The threat of terrorism requires significant consideration for executives with plans to travel abroad and/or attend high-profile public events. One recent example pertains to threats surrounding the 2016 Rio Olympics, when terrorist groups such as ISIS took to numerous cyber outlets ranging from private Deep & Dark Web forums and the encrypted social media app Telegram to Twitter to publicize their intentions of launching terror attacks in Brazil during the games. While such threats fortunately never materialized, they serve to illustrate how terrorists’ use of technology and operations on the Internet can lead to threats endangering physical safety.

• Large-scale cyber attacks. It should come as no surprise that cyber attacks including ransomware, DDoS, or large-scale fraud schemes can wreak havoc on a brand’s reputation, which in turn can cause harm to sales, stakeholders to become disgruntled, and high-profile executives to become the targets of unwanted attention, ridicule, and threats. While cybersecurity and IT teams may bear the bulk of the responsibility in preventing such attacks from occurring, prevention may not always possible. As such, if a large-scale cyber attack or breach becomes public knowledge, the entire organization — especially key executives — may face an increased risk to their business functions.

The three threats above are best addressed and mitigated by analyzing and applying intelligence in a manner that fosters collaboration across the enterprise — such as that which BRI facilitates. Executive protection teams that do not employ such a strategy, however, may be unknowingly less prepared for and informed of relevant threats.

To further illustrate my point, let’s look at some common differences between public- and private-sector executive protection programs.

While those in the public-sector are often lauded for their comprehensive efficacy, efficiency, and precision, many private-sector programs tend to lag. One reason for this discrepancy is that most public-sector programs receive support from and collaborate with public-sector intelligence agencies, which provide them with a more comprehensive picture into all relevant threats — cyber or physical — that could potentially endanger an executive or agency. However, many private-sector programs are rarely afforded such visibility due to a lack of information-sharing between executive protection and other business functions. Since cybersecurity and IT are often the only private-sector business functions with any sort of visibility into the Deep & Dark Web, if these teams receive no direction or reason to seek out threats originating on the internet that could potentially impact an executive’s security, they are unlikely to do so.

As a hypothetical example, let’s say that the CEO of a Fortune 100 retailer will travel abroad to Asia to represent her company at a high-profile public event. In preparation for her trip, her executive protection team has conducted extensive research into the safety of the surrounding area, mapped out emergency evacuation routes, and constructed a well-equipped team of physical security professionals ready to protect her.

Meanwhile, a cyber intelligence analyst on the company’s cybersecurity team has been tasked with researching an English-speaking hacktivist group that has recently defaced a series of websites linked to leading North American retailers. While monitoring a Deep Web forum known to be frequented by hacktivists, the analyst notices that a well-known member of an international hacktivist group has authored several posts about plans to launch a cyber attack in an effort to shut down the power supply of an upcoming high-profile public event in Asia. Indeed, such intelligence could absolutely be of high interest to the CEO’s executive protection team to understand the CEO’s risk profile better.

But, since the cyber intelligence analyst was unaware of the CEO’s upcoming trip, he did not consider the information relevant to the executive protection team or any other business function at his organization for that matter. Evidently, despite the executive protection team’s exhaustive research and preparation to ensure the CEO’s safety during her upcoming trip, lack of visibility into the threats emerging from the Deep & Dark Web means that the team was not as prepared as they could have been.

In today’s day and age of unprecedented technological advancements and threat actors capable of evading even the most robust security measures, many organizations are not fully aware of all ways in which they are vulnerable to the risks presented by increasingly-advanced cyber and physical threats. This lack of awareness can be especially detrimental to executive protection teams because failing to acknowledge relevant threats means that the team cannot accurately assess and address the executive’s overall risk.

As such, BRI has become a must-have for executive protection and physical security teams. Not only can BRI equip these teams with visibility into relevant cyber and physical threats, it facilitates open collaboration and information sharing that can enable all business functions across all sectors to gain a decision advantage over cyber and physical adversaries.

To learn more about how BRI can enhance physical security and executive protection efforts, download our use cases here.

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About the author: Josh Lefkowitz

Josh Lefkowitz

Josh Lefkowitz is the Chief Executive Officer of Flashpoint, where he executes the company's strategic vision to empower organizations with Business Risk Intelligence (BRI) derived from the Deep & Dark Web. He has worked extensively with authorities to track and analyze terrorist groups. Mr. Lefkowitz also served as a consultant to the FBI's senior management team and worked for a top tier, global investment bank. Mr. Lefkowitz holds an MBA from Harvard University and a BA from Williams College.