In our latest interview with expert Nick Barreiro, Chief Forensic Analyst of Principle Forensics, we discussed the security risks from any/all social media platform postings and how someone can obtain critical information from your pictures. If you haven’t watched the interview yet, please find it below
According to Vice’s latest article, authorities have been following Instagram profiles of the women related to, or involved with, Russian oligarchs to obtain information about them, their holdings, accounts, and locate assets to seize/freeze by merely identifying and following the weakest link who posts the most. These women who act like ”influencers” or social media celebrities are looking for publicity, but they now represent a significant threat to the security of the individuals they’re around and expose them to unwanted scrutiny. ”Oligarchs themselves rarely use Instagram to accidentally crack open a window into their high living. Rather, it’s the people partying with them: A stepdaughter, an ex-wife, or in the least one infamous case, an escort.” Read the full article here.
The use of social media and the way it affects our lives and businesses have brought a new challenge to the security industry and the protective team’s responsibility. It gives the entire world the ability to look into people’s lives with the mere push of a button. Scandals are created, secrets exposed, and lives ruined. In the case of personal security, social media can be used in the advancement of a protective detail; however, one must know how to utilize it properly. Today, we will talk about Social Media Investigations and Monitoring. For those who are not aware of the term, as we utilize it in protection circles, Social Media Investigation and Monitoring is the process by which you can identify what is being said about your clients, a brand they represent, or the corporations with which they are involved and any threats or dangers that may exist in relation to those aspects.
As we sift through different social media platforms and online channels, we must then determine if what is being said has any significance regarding your clients’ reputation, persona, and safety and if there is the need to mitigate any risks. In other words, it’s like setting up an online, social media “net”. This process then helps you discover everything that is being said, written about, or portrayed on social media and determine its relevance to your clients. You can gather information about the ‘’public opinion’’ surrounding your clients, about people or entities who are angry with them for one reason or the other, people who are obsessed with them, or people who are making online threats. SOCMINT or Social Media Intelligence (not to be confused with OSINT) has seen a huge rise in necessity due to the use of social media and a competent protective detail needs to always be informed and social media investigations and monitoring are a huge part of this process.
Now, let’s see some examples of how social media investigations and monitoring applies in protective services. Let’s say one of the people you are protecting belongs to a large pharmaceutical company and they decided to raise the price of a specific drug, thus affecting the lives and wellbeing of thousands of people. Perhaps another client is involved in a financial institution that quite suddenly makes a significant decision that affects people’s lifetime savings and pensions. You can imagine that there will be a significant number of people who become very angry, and some may want to harm your client. During the recent pandemic, there were a number of “anti-vaxx” groups that were quite vocal and utilized Facebook as one of their many platforms to accomplish their goals. Another example would be the need to discover if there is someone using your client’s name or company to scam others and commit crimes.
We are sure that many of you today are aware of the infamous ‘’Tinder Swindler’’, Shimon Yehuda Hayut, who legally changed his name to Simon Leviev to pretend to be the son of the billionaire Lev Leviev and used his name and company logos to scam people. Although his actions were known since 2017, it was only after the airing of the Netflix documentary in 2022 that the Leviev family found out and filed a lawsuit against Hayut for falsely portraying himself as the son of Lev Leviev, receiving benefits, and committing crimes.
According to Leviev’s family attorney, Guy Ophir, they will now include anyone who has attempted to make a profit from his scam during the next lawsuit. What we can ask is, as security providers, why didn’t someone from the real Leviev family ever discover this scam artist who was extremely public and active on social media as the ‘’son of Lev Leviev’’? Although the real family members were never part of this fraudulent scheme, and it didn’t appear to affect their safety, it did, however, involve their name/brand in a very public and negative way. In other words, it should have definitely been considered as a threat to their reputation. Other people who were harmed by this scam artist were the businesses who did work with them, and their secondary service providers as well.
Another interesting case to mention is Elon Musk where he, the actual client, took it upon himself to “solve” the issue and directly contacted the person of interest who had begun posting his private flight details and created the security risk for him and was literally blackmailing him unless the POI was paid. According to media reports “Elon Musk states social-media accounts that track his travel movements are ‘becoming a security issue.” Tail numbers and yacht names of billionaires are increasingly being shared on online platforms and one can track them by having the appropriate app unless significant efforts are made to secure them from the reach of those diligent few. These are some unique specific details that the security team needs to pay close attention to at all times.
Since Social Media platforms are the way people today communicate with each other, we as security providers must keep in mind that this is not always a positive aspect. Perhaps a person or persons will utilize social media to collectively gather people with their same goal or mission, to get together and plan their next move (Example: protesting outside your client’s house or corporation). In this case, you will want to know what is being said online about the person you protect to determine if there is something of extreme necessity to include in your risk and threat assessment and then take protective measures as well as inform their legal department.
As we have all witnessed too many times, it only takes one well-placed picture or story regarding some alleged activity on the part of your client, and it will go viral quickly, truth or not. Staying one step ahead of this type of “attack” has become a crucial necessity in order to protect your client from embarrassment or exposure. One of the most common issues in recent history is when personnel close to the client i.e., family, staff, vendors, and any other secondary customers post pictures, stories, or opinions and subsequently fail to understand the negative effect these types of communications can and will have on the client’s life, business, and the lives of their loved ones.
Why do you need a Social Media Investigations and Monitoring Strategy when you are a security services provider? To summarize we can say:
1) To identify new threats.
2) To discover what information about your client is posted online either by himself, the ones close to him, or his employees and evaluate how these affect his safety.
3) To evaluate a threat (someone is posting online threats directed at your client).
4) To add to your due diligence.
5) To geolocate a picture or a video, sometimes even audio.
6) To include any findings in your Risk and Threat Assessment (We can never highlight this enough, social media surveys and investigations are now a critical part of your Risk and Threat Assessments).
7) To find people obsessed with or following your clients (stalkers).
8) To identify hate groups or terrorist organizations that may affect your client.
9) To identify people or businesses your client may or may not want to do business with.
10)To mitigate risks from the information found online about the person you protect (How are the pictures of my client used or tampered with and for what purpose?).
11)To identify if someone is impersonating your client or a family member.
12)To find out if your client’s moves/visits/travels are posted online (Exposing them to others who may be in the same hotel, conference room, restaurant).
13)To identify workplace violence or insider threats indicators.
14)To find out what is the ‘’public opinion’’ regarding your client (Always keep an eye on what is being said about your client and have a strategy to respond).
15)To determine if a person or persons are utilizing your client’s name or business name in a malicious or unauthorized manner for their own personal gain. (Claiming associations or partnerships, etc.)
How to perform Social Media Monitoring for security purposes?
First, let’s clarify one important thing. ‘’Googling it’’ is not enough, nor is it the answer. There are a number of search sites that allow for user input thus watering down or contaminating information and it’s accuracy. For those who are not aware, Social Media Investigations and Monitoring is quite a different department of protective services and quite often falls under Intelligence Analysis and Open-Source Intelligence. It requires unique skills and knowledge. One must clearly understand different social media and research platforms and how to use each one of them (and/or in combination) to obtain information. How you will approach each case is different and certainly depends on who your client is, their business, close relations, and/or their public image. This will directly affect the searches and the resources used and for what purpose. It is vital in our current day and age to include SOCMINT (Social Media Intelligence) in your client’s service proposal, no matter how public the person may or may not be. Hiring ten Executive Protection agents and a Residential Security Team is not enough anymore. SOCMINT services are a vital part of your Risk and Threat Assessments (Dynamic Risk Assessments too) and enable your protective detail to function more efficiently.
For those who can not provide a certified Social Media Investigator for their clients, follow up with these steps:
1)Understand who your client is, his/her background, the threats, where do they stand in political, social, financial sectors.
2)Be aware of any of the latest changes in your clients’ lifestyle, public opinions, and professional decisions.
3)Be aware of any of their political and social changes. Watch the news from multiple channels.
4)Familiarize yourself with all close family, friends, staff, and associates and their respective social media footprints.
5)Set up a social media investigation and monitoring strategy.
6)Have a good understanding of the Intelligence Cycle (How the intel is being collected, analyzed, disseminated, reviewed, etc.).
7)Have a good understanding of the search tools on different platforms (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, TikTok, LinkedIn, Tumblr, Reddit, etc.)
8)Do research on the available search engines and the strengths and limitations each one may have.
9)Know how to conduct image, video, and audio research and gather intelligence from them.
10)Invest in appropriate platforms for social media investigations and monitoring (Have in mind, NEVER rely on one platform’s result or just platforms’ results. The user/investigator is the main component of a social media investigation).
11)Download and use appropriate search engines extensions and apps.
12)Invest time in creating ‘’sock puppets’’ or fake profiles and maintain their persona. Sometimes you may need a profile to have access to different forums or groups without being discovered.
13)Train yourself in link analysis (How to look for connections between people, events, and organizations).
14)Set keyword alerts (In multiple languages in case your client has ties with more than one country).
15)Gather, analyze, evaluate, and report your findings to the appropriate department or leadership.
As the threat landscape changes every day, we as protection providers must be able to adapt and keep ourselves up to date with additional training. Today’s executive protection agent must also be skilled and knowledgeable in investigations, open-source intelligence, protective intelligence, HUMINT, and have an increased understanding of cyber security. Large corporations have already created their own embedded intelligence departments, while others are hiring threat analysts and OSINT investigations from outside security providers. The rise of protective intelligence, and whatever that includes, is here to stay and we are seeing it more and more through the highly increased number of related job postings every day.
If you are an Executive Protection Agent and want to learn more on how to utilize Social Media Investigations and Monitoring for Risk Mitigation Purposes, reach out to us.
f you are a service provider and want to add Social Media Investigations and Monitoring for Risk Mitigation Purposes on your service list, contact us to learn about our vendor services.
We will be launching a series of educational webinars that are absolutely free to attend. The aim of the webinars won’t be to present people and their past stories, but to have specific guests who will combine their experience and training in the industry in order to teach you something new, to help your professional development and to provide consultation for you. They will share their opinions, the “do and don’ts” of the industry and answer your questions.
And the best part? The content of each webinar will be developed by you! While we are working on our next webinars, let us know either by a comment here or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org what topics would you be interested in having discussed, answered and/or receive consultation on? This is a webinar created for you, by you!
It’s not very often when we have the ability to interview and learn from our adversaries. While most efforts are seemingly focused only on physical attacks, they do not give enough emphasis to the paparazzi, media, and all that this facet of protection entails. But we’ve got you covered. This is an interview we have been wanting to do for the last 5 years. What we learned from a retired British paparazzi is that pointing a flashlight toward them won’t work, neither you are safe if you block the tail number from your private jet. We also learned how they find information about your clients, who are willing to pay a lot of money to buy your pictures (no, it is not only the media outlets), to what length they will go to distract you and get that picture and why you will be not able to buy their silence.
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The latest incident with French President Emmanuel Macron being slapped by someone in the crowd has once again fired up the keyboard warriors who take any incident (video or picture) such as this and claim how improperly the Executive Protection team functioned and what would they have done differently and, of course, be more successful. As a Greek proverb says ‘’Whoever is outside the dance (floor), can sing many songs’’ Meaning: It is easy to talk about something when you are not the one involved in it.
As security practitioners, we must be very careful what we say online, keeping in mind, whatever you post online stays online even if you delete it minutes later. We should not criticize security details and/or the people involved because we do not know all the facts, details, limitations and the full story. When you post a comment on a 10-second video, you may not have the full story. You do not know what happened before or after the incident. What you see in a photo may not be the full picture. It doesn’t make you any more ‘’professional’’ when you try to spot the wrong moves in an incident where you weren’t involved and you do not know all the parameters: you are just assuming.
In this case, we heard many opinions:
‘’Why didn’t they keep standard formation?’’- How can you keep standard formation when your principal is anticipating close interaction with a member of the crowd? Greeting lines are extremely tedious and are one of the most difficult situations to read and provide protection.
‘’The reaction time was slow.’’- The reaction time always seems to be slower when you see an incident on a video over and over again rather than being involved with it in real-time in the field.
‘’They were lucky he wasn’t holding a knife.’’ – Actually someone did their job well and made sure he (or anyone else in the crowd) wasn’t holding a weapon. What most fail to understand is that these crowds are previously checked for anything that can be used as a weapon.
‘’Why didn’t they saw that coming?’’ – They don’t teach ESP at Executive Protection schools…
‘’Why didn’t someone teach Macron?’’ – Most protectees won’t sit down and learn from you about protection, they want you to protect them. It’s not their job to know how to do yours…Why do you think you’re employed?
Now let’s address some challenges for protecting public figures and try to make some rational sense of all of this.
Protecting people whose identity depends on the public, such as politicians, in this case, is very much different than protecting a C-Suite executive for example. A politician needs the interaction with public. They shake hands, hug, get pictures with and celebrate with large crowds. Having people like them is what makes people vote for them, and they need to look and act quite approachable to everyone in order to gain votes. If they don’t get the votes, well, then they no longer hold their current political position. They have to attend gatherings and events and most of those functions may be outside of your span of control regarding organizing it. You have to provide services as best as you can with what you have and minimize whatever limitations you can.
In this case ‘’the unknown crowd’’ is the issue. The ‘’crowd’’ provides a good opportunity for the enemy to blend in, act and even escape in some cases. Also, as most public appearances are preplanned and announced, the enemy has the time to be prepared for the attack. And when we say attack, let’s clarify that “attack on your principal” is not only an assassination or physical harm but also an attack on his/her personality, reputation or by causing embarrassment.
While most EP training schools focus only on physical attacks, have in mind causing embarrassing situations may be something your principal is particularly vulnerable and endangered by, thus it is something you must be prepared to prevent. Making sure the crowd has been checked for anything that can be used as a weapon doesn’t mean you are safe from an embarrassing situation. Paying attention to people’s hands and what they are carrying doesn’t mean you can be sure about the intention of a handshake. A handshake can become a pat on the shoulder or a slap on the face. How would you know the intentions of the handshake and act within 2 seconds to prevent it? You must be in very close proximity to do that and sometimes you have limitations on how close you can be with your principal, particularly when they are interacting with the public and potential voters. When any public figure decides he/she want to come within close proximity of a voter, you are required to break the standard formations and you cannot have security between the voter and the principal because they need that ‘’personal space’’.
Act too aggressive and they will perceive this position as very unapproachable, something that goes against your principal’s political campaigns. So you have limitations or adaptations to perform your protective job competently.
Another thing to consider is that some protectees will appear uncooperative with you and your suggestions or directions. They will do the exact opposite of what you have instructed them to do or whatever the plan was because they thought doing something different was ok, safe or was suggested at the last minute by their campaign manager. Some protectees will ask you to protect them no matter what. The fact that they won’t consider changing their lifestyle, and you have to do your best, becomes another facet of the ever-evolving detail.
Have we forgotten the flying shoe incident with President Bush in a press conference in 2008? The red paint thrown at Mary Harney, Ireland’s Health Minister in November 2010? Berlusconi’s nose being broken and two teeth knocked out when a man attending a political rally threw the statuette of Milan’s Duomo gothic cathedral straight in his face in 2009? Eggs being thrown at Bill Clinton in Warsaw, Poland? Nicolas Sarkozy being a victim of a flying pie in 1997? The book thrown at Obama in 2010? The glitter attack on Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlently in 2011? Pope being attacked by a woman who jumped barriers at St Peter’s Basilica and knocked him down in 2009? The famous slap on Dimitra Liani Papandreou, the widow of ex Greek PM at her book signing by a woman who appears to be there to sign her book? Bill Gates’ “Pie-to-the-Face” fiasco? There are so many more similar incidents including paint, body fluids, pies, yoghurt, vegetables, flour and even flashing body parts such as the Femen members who went toplessness in front of the EU-Russia summit, in Brussels, in December 2012.
Can we criticize the EP team members involved in these incidents? Can we say that you would have done better after the incident has taken place? From the moment you have a complete crowd check for weapons, you are in a “secure” space. But what leads you to believe that you have a better understanding regarding the mental status of someone who appears to be a voter or a fan? Can you honestly guess his motives if he/she wants to slap, or spit or in some way embarrass your client?
If you haven’t provided security details for Public Figures, it may seem easy for you to criticize an incident like this, but criticizing what you don’t know and just assuming doesn’t make you right and it very well may show your ignorance. Instead, use this incident as a reminder that people will use anything to harm your client’s reputation and their imagination can be big and quite unpleasant. Keep it as a learning tool for yourself and yet another scenario in your head of what you would or wouldn’t do if…
To all CEOs, celebrities, VIPs and high value individuals…
At some point in your careers, you will most likely find the need to retain, or at the very least, inquire about close protection services for yourselves, your loved ones and possibly for those you employ closest to you. Now, the list of companies and corporations that provide these type of services is quite lengthy and, while at first they all appear very impressive, you need to be thorough as you take a deep look at them and the ideals and morals they represent. Again, you are searching for the perfect fit that best protects yourselves, your families, employees and all things that you need secured and confidential. A quite disturbing trend as of late has been the repeated posting of pics with you as the client, at your locations and in front of your vehicles, private planes, residences, etc. while boasting about the details of who you might be, what was happening or other items of a secure nature. Now, this is entirely unacceptable no matter what the terms or conditions of their employment may be with you. You, and all that that may encompass, are to be secure, confidential and invisible for all intents and purposes. Period. Social media has become the source of all communications amongst a great number of these entities and this in turn has led to a trend of exposing enormous amounts of confidential client information when it is not only unnecessary but highly unprofessional and, frankly, childish. At times, it has even been portrayed as “marketing” when, in it’s true form, it’s nothing more than schoolyard bragging. So, when researching a prospective organization that you perceive may be the one you will choose, a thorough search of all related social media should be performed. The company’s sites, the reviews and even the social media sites of any/all possible employees that you might hire from their corporation. If they are willing to expose their previous clients with seemingly reckless abandon, you will most likely be the next celebrity/VIP pic that hits the Facebook/Instagram/LinkedIn circuit and that is, I’m quite sure, not your desire at all. Many companies will show an endless supply of “tactical” pictures, extreme condition photos, worst case scenario snapshots, etc. Please understand that most of the organizations are composed of a large number of former military members, former LEO/SWAT members and private security contractors who have “been there & done that”. But it is always wise to remember that while these skills are highly advantageous should everything go tragically wrong in your day, these type of days should never happen if the proper planning is performed which is completely above and beyond the “hard skills” as they are often referred to. Another highly recommended item is a detailed NDA and total social media blackout for all involved. Leave nothing to chance and be very clear regarding the seriousness that this represents to you and the severity of disciplinary action should it be violated. Again, you and all you hold most dear are to be secure, confidential and private and definitely NOT on the front page of a local newspaper, tabloid, media page or out to the highest bidder. Always remember this…You came looking to us with your concerns and fears, placing your overall well-being in our capable hands. With that in mind, you should always feel protected, safe and secure from anyone or anything that might wish to harm you. And that harm should NEVER be at the hands of the very people whom you have so willingly trusted to provide the very best security, protection and peace of mind.
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