The Internet has made the security industry far more complex. For celebrities, CEOs and VIPs, it means pictures of their homes can be online, their office addresses are public knowledge and pictures of their cars and children are available for anyone to see. That contributes to their risks at home, while traveling, or attending large-scale events. When they lead major organizations or champion controversial causes, they can become targets for many types of crimes.
We asked international security expert Scott Alswang what VIPs need to know in today’s environment. A former Secret Service agent, he has provided protection services for every U.S. president from Ronald Reagan to George W. Bush as well as for dignitaries, high profile global executives and prominent individuals. Today, as Executive Vice President of SOS Security, one of the country’s largest such firms, he advises and protects the high profile, the high net wealth and their organizations.
You work with many celebrities. What are examples of what they should not do?
My first rule is, never drive a car. Because of the ubiquity of the paparazzi and other intrusive types of people, always use a driver who is a trained security specialist. When you are a celebrity, you are your own intellectual property. You must protect that. Don’t become complacent.
Realize your children are targets for kidnapping and you are a target for faux lawsuits and other financial crimes. So don’t rely on your instinct or your friend’s opinions when you hire people: check references and conduct due diligence checks.
When you are not proactive on these fronts, it can affect your public image and you can lose control over your story. That can harm your brand, although your safety is my main concern.
CEOs and C-Suite executives face special issues, especially when they travel out of the country.
Too many continue to broadcast their locations on social media. That makes them vulnerable to carjackings when they travel. They often also lack computer security on their laptops and other devices, which increases their vulnerability to hacking. When they are associated with publicly traded companies that can severely impact a career and impact a reputation that has taken years to build.
Many are targets for Russian or European hackers. Rogue groups put spyware in place to obtain confidential or private information that may affect stock price or ruin a reputation.
Express kidnappings in Mexico and Brazil, cloning of computers in China, audio countermeasures in your hotel room spying on you when you’re most at ease, spiking your drink — these are all things that can and do happen to business people while traveling, especially when they are associated with a well-known organization.
What are some other areas that folks with high visibility should be aware of?
Celebrities and high net worth folks, especially C-suite types running a publicly traded company, sometimes forget that the most mundane thing makes news and can bring unwanted attention with potentially embarrassing consequences.
Folks with high visibility must conduct themselves differently in this TMZ environment. Most know to be courteous in public. Many forget that their private life on the web may not be private.
It’s a dangerous world out there and becoming more so. Many high net worth individuals and celebrities don’t see any ROI employing security professionals, executive protection specialists, reputation defenders or vetted staff to ensure trust and security with sensitive matters.
It is important to realize that not everyone loves a movie star or the CEO of a company that conducts animal testing, or whose stock has plummeted and lost money for stakeholders while the CEO receives an eight-figure salary and bonus.
Some people are resentful, some are unhinged and some are downright dangerous. Emotionally disturbed people or sane people set on kidnapping or blackmail for profit are risks that the security experts can help thwart.
Just as you dress for success, prepare and protect your future physically, at home, at work and online. Live a safe, conflict-free life. Coordinate security and safety with a professional.
Scott Alswang served for 20 years in the United States Secret Service and retired as the assistant to the special agent in charge of the New York Field Office of the United States Secret Service. During his service he protected every U.S. president from Ronald Reagan to George W. Bush. Mr. Alswang also conducted protective advances for every major foreign head of state that visited the United States of America.
He is director of the Association of the Former Agents of the United States Secret Service, a fraternal and charitable organization comprised of 6000 former U.S. Secret Service agents. He regularly appears on national/international TV and radio to speak about security issues.
Mr. Alswang graduated from William Paterson University with a BS in Public Safety Administration and completed a MA in Criminal Justice at City University of New York’s John Jay College of Criminal Justice.
This is the eighteenth in a series of interviews with experts whose work relates to online reputation management.