Keeping Corporate Executives Safe in a Digital World

March 30, 2022

Keeping Corporate Executives Safe in a Digital World

In today’s climate of global political unrest, racial tension, and division around Covid-19 beliefs and policies, it’s easy to find someone who disagrees with your opinion. And unfortunately, the availability of online outlets for stating our views also contributes to rising volatility, resentment, and dangerous behavior.

As the world becomes increasingly digitized, businesses must be vigilant about protecting their executives from doxxing and other dangerous cybercrime. Unfortunately, many CEOs and other high-level executives are targets for criminals because of the sensitive information that attackers can readily access. The good news is employers can take steps to protect their executives from becoming victims of cybercrime. This article explores the best ways to safeguard your organization's most valuable assets.

Executives are at Risk of Physical and Online Attacks

Leaders in businesses of all sizes and across industries are voicing concerns about increasing threats.

According to Ontic’s 2022 State of Protective Intelligence Report, 88% of respondents have seen dramatic increases in physical threat behavior over the last couple of years. Eighty-seven percent believe these will grow to unmanageable levels this year.

Between 2003 and 2021, another recent Ontic report about the safety of executives documented 206 physical and online attacks on company executives, with a majority in the Americas. Incidents included kidnappings, shootings, impersonation, account hacking, cyberstalking, and threats, so it's no wonder that business executives are worried about being targeted. 

In 44% of the cases, executives were attacked at their primary residence. Unfortunately, it’s impossible to know precisely how assailants obtained addresses. But there are many cases where executives, journalists, celebrities, and other high-profile individuals are targets because their private information is revealed online, otherwise known as doxxing.

The Ongoing Impact of Doxxing

While 69% of the CEOs who were doxxed in the Ontic report were male, this may be because males represent a higher share of leadership positions. In other areas, such as journalism, doxxing affects women and individuals in marginalized groups at much higher rates than men. In industries typically dominated by white men, such as sports reporting, gaming, and political activism, harassment has been especially intense.

Often, doxxers reveal sensitive information online and encourage others to use it maliciously to gain revenge, shame or silence the victim, or even cause personal harm. Doxxing can lead to behaviors like:

  • Trolling and online harassment
  • Sending takeout food or offensive items to a private address
  • Identity theft or impersonation
  • Escalated activity like protesting, swatting, or violent attacks

For victims, doxxing can be devastating. In many cases, the resulting harassment can lead to:

  • Reduced or eliminated social media activity
  • Relocation
  • Mental health issues
  • Failed relationships
  • Ongoing fear and anxiety
  • Reduced productivity at work
  • The need to resign from a position or leave a career 

Sadly, people don’t believe their workplace or law enforcement will take doxxing and its effects seriously, so it often goes unreported.

How Can You Protect Your Corporate Executives from Being Targeted by Hackers?

When you take steps to protect your executives’ personal information, your company may avoid phishing scams and social engineering attacks. As a result, you’ll protect your company and your executives' reputations and minimize regulatory challenges. In addition, you’ll boost employee morale and maintain customer loyalty.

Proactive solutions provide more benefits to all stakeholders than reactive responses. Here are some tips to reduce doxxing and other threats against your executives and employees:

  1. Encourage Individuals to Self Audit Their Internet Presence - Googling yourself can be eye-opening. Still, when you know what information is out there, you can decide how much risk you’re willing to take and begin removing information you’re not comfortable seeing. Start by logging out of your Google account so it doesn’t impact your results. Then, search your name, physical address, email addresses, and other personal information.
  2. Encourage Individuals to Manage Their Online Interactions - This can be difficult when your online presence is essential in your career activities. Again, you can take stock of the risk factors and minimize the amount of personal information you share. 
  3. Implement Training around the Importance of Protecting Personally Identifying Information (PII) - Eighty percent of cyber attacks result from a user doing something they shouldn’t, like clicking on a link that looks like it’s from the company CEO. Training can help executives understand the digital exhaust they leave behind when navigating online activities, malicious cyberattack prevention, and good digital hygiene with work and personal computers and devices.
  4. Share Resources Like the Digital Exhaust Opt-Out Guide - The guide can help executives see the amount of personal information that has been exposed and help them begin the process of removing their information from the internet. 
  5. Establish Corporate Policies - Ensure your organization has policies in place for effective data management and proactive physical and cyber security practices. Also, create processes for reporting threats as a high percentage are never reported until after a significant incident.

Fortunately, some laws are changing. Several states have introduced legislation to criminalize doxxing and related behaviors. Social media platforms like Facebook are also changing their policies to disallow the practice and make it easier for victims to have sensitive information removed.

As we have seen, top executives are at risk when their personal information is revealed online, jeopardizing them, their families, and your organization. While some companies are starting to take action, more needs to be done to reduce the risk and protect these individuals. 

Threat management platforms build confidence and boost morale within an organization and help keep your executives safe from harm. While no measure is 100% effective, PrivacyBrain can help your organization remove personal data from public view and keep your team safe. 

Start protecting your employees today

We can help you understand the scope of risk your company may face when exposed employee information is floating around online.