How Executive Protection Teams can use Social Media to Protect VIPs
“[Executive Protection] refers to security measures taken to ensure the safety of VIPs or other individuals who may be exposed to elevated personal risk because of their employment, celebrity status, wealth, associations or geographical location.” – Wikipedia
All large organizations, at some point, need to determine which employees are at an elevated personal risk to unsavory types.
It doesn’t matter whether the organization is Walmart, the Whitehouse, or a hedge fund. Security teams will create and implement a plan to keep executives safe. By way of example, according to Forbes Magazine, Oracle spent almost $2M dollars in executive protection in 2007.
In the past, the protection of executive’s and other VIP’s was mainly about having muscle, quick hands, and sharp eyes between the client and a threat.
With the emergence of the Internet and social media, many things have changed.
In the digital age, executive protection is closer to a chess match than a game of rugby. This point is well illustrated by Mark Davies’ discussion on how security teams have to plan ahead in “Professional Planning for Executive Protection.”
Security teams have to plan their moves 10 steps ahead, factoring in any number of attack vectors. It takes more critical thinking, more planning, more research, and more resources than ever before to keep VIPs safe.
Whether the VIP is heading out of the country or simply commuting in the daily grind, their security detail must be extremely familiar with the current risk level.
Civil unrest, PR stories, political motivators, or even a recent change in company financials can all contribute to executive risk.
The recent Uber protests in France are a great example of an unexpected risk. Popular singer Courtney Love was caught in the middle of riot-like violence when her Uber-cab was attacked by protesters in the streets.
All large organizations, at some point, need to determine which employees are at an elevated personal risk to unsavory types. [Tweet this]
A quick search of the executive will tell a security team much of what they need to know.
How popular is the figure? Is the public opinion positive or negative? How is she portrayed overseas?
Answering questions like these will help security teams determine how many resources will be required for that day.
Search Social Media
As social media becomes an operating platform for criminals, it’s quickly becoming a go-to resource for security professionals to establish situational awareness.
Searching social media can quickly let an observer determine any number of critical pieces of information: where the protest is, who might be hostile or where the traffic is gridlocked.
Check before Travelling Abroad
Social media transcends borders and international news. Leveraging a search of social media at an executives destination can quickly let security teams know if the region is friendly or hostile.
A location specific search of social media can drill down to retrieve more precise information. Observing the social media around the executives hotel or meeting place can give protection teams a great idea what to prepare for.
Protect Close to Home
In addition to protecting their VIP, security teams need to ensure that each of the VIP’s family members is safe.
Daintry Duffy, of CSO Online, illustrates many of the key issues executive protection teams faced all the way back to 2005, before social media was mainstream.
Duffy highlights the importance of executive protection with an alarming story about several Irish banking executives. Each banker was coerced into paying a ransom after family members had been abducted and held hostage.
The bank in question lost a substantial amount of cash. The real loss, however, was in social trust and in public relations.
Social media provides an additional challenge as kids will always be adopting the newest technology and social media platforms. Posting online can provide another vulnerability for attackers to exploit. Ensuring the safety of a VIP’s family should be as much about educating the children about the pitfalls online as monitoring the child’s online presence.
Monitor that Routine
Humans are creatures of habit. This is still true for VIPs. Security teams should have an extremely good idea of what kind of habits each executive has in the social media arena. Does she Tweet every time before she goes for a run? Or about the vacation they are about to take?
Individually, the social posts may be harmless, but together, or joined with other sources of information, an attacker may be able to exploit her routine.
As mentioned in Duffy’s article, now, more than ever, it’s important for the security team to liaise with the communications and marketing teams to ensure that any outgoing messages are not incidental security risks.
What tools can be used to search social media?
Platform Advanced Search:
Starting with an ‘Incognito’ browser to simulate an external online investigator. Head to the social media platform of choice and try a few keywords, hashtags, and usernames to see what shows up.
Please note: these types of search regularly do not paint the whole picture. Simple searches may not get all of the information. See this article on Firehose data streams.
Social Media Search Tools:
There are many tools available that can help search across any number of social media platforms.
These tools vary from generic to highly specific. Features include location-based search, keyword and text search, alerts, notifications and even rudimentary image recognition.
Ultimately, executive protection is an important issue that large organizations deal with on a day to day basis. It is critical to be leveraging every information source possible to do the best job.
Echosec gathers open source intelligence that is indispensable to modern executive protection teams. Book a consultation to learn more.