Individuals and corporations need to take a hard look at security systems and protocols to ensure protection against rising crime.
As countries take tentative steps toward reopening after more than a year of lockdowns as a consequence of the COVID-19 pandemic, they are finding that they are stepping into a world that is less safe than before. In order to stay safe in such a world, individuals, families, and corporations will need to take a long hard look at the security systems they rely on to protect them.
In the United States, crime rates, specifically homicides and auto thefts, soared in major cities in 2020. Experts attribute this trend to a perfect storm of factors: the global pandemic and the corresponding economic crisis, a shift in police tactics and resources in response to the social upheaval of the past year, and the release of prisoners in an attempt to minimize the risk of COVID-19 outbreaks in prisons.
“If the murder rates, car thefts, spouse abuse, child abuse, and burglaries in the United States, the richest country in the world, has skyrocketed in all our major cities, what do you think is going on in Bogotá, Colombia; Mexico City?” asked Dale Buckner, president and CEO of Global Guardian. “The takeaway is this: as you reopen, New York City is not the New York City of 2019… apply that template around the world.”
Security considerations, Buckner said, need to be front and center as companies consider putting their employees back on the road and the safety of their supply chains and facilities.
Buckner participated in a webinar hosted by Global Guardian on June 30. He was joined in the discussion by Chip Busker, head of security at Hendrick Automotive, and Tony Strickland, chief security officer at the global biotech firm CSL. Mike McGarrity, vice president of Global Risk Services at Global Guardian, kicked off the discussion on “Emerging Security Trends in 2021.”
McGarrity, a former assistant director for counterterrorism at the FBI, noted a correlation between the proliferation of guns and the increase in violent crime across the United States; active shooter incidents that were down at the height of the pandemic last year are steadily creeping up and there will likely be more crimes of opportunity. Globally, McGarrity expects an increase in threats from foreign terrorist networks and criminal organizations as travel picks up. He also expects foreign fighters who have been stranded in Iraq and Syria as a consequence of the pandemic lockdowns to start returning to Europe, creating security challenges there.
In addition, variants of the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 are posing a new challenge. The delta variant of the virus is proving to be highly contagious and deadly; the variant has forced countries like South Africa and Australia to reimpose lockdowns, and has caused cases to emerge in Israel, which has one of the world’s highest vaccination rates. While some countries, including the United States, are gradually reopening, “we’re not out of the woods yet” as far as the pandemic is concerned, said Strikland.
Buckner said that as the developed world emerges from the pandemic, “what most people aren’t thinking is that the Third World has been completely left behind.” Citing low rates of vaccinations and high rates of infections and death in these countries, he said: “the world is reopening on unequal footing.”
The pandemic has disrupted the way we live our lives, the way we work, and even global supply chains.
Discussing the challenge of managing a mobile workforce and assets, Strickland said that employees are increasingly looking for guidance during these volatile, uncertain, and complex times. “In addition, there is a heightened need because of the threats—whether it is crime, criminals, terrorism, theft, or even the threat of COVID—they want increased safety,” he said. “We have got to provide those protections.”
Strickland said the disruption caused to global supply chains had resulted in higher cost of logistics. As vaccines are shipped around the world, the capacity of aircraft has reduced, which has led to an increase in air freight rates, he explained. This situation has forced CSL to look at different supply routes and chains. Strickland pointed to the obstruction of the Suez Canal in March—a six-day incident caused when a ship got lodged in the canal, resulting in a backup of vessels and billions of dollars in losses—as another example of why it is important to map alternative supply chains.
Predicting other supply chain disruptions, Buckner said one has to assume that the criminal element will be more aggressive than ever before in Central America and South America as a consequence of the desperation caused by the pandemic. Contending that now is the time to do a hard check on systems, he added: “You have to assume that people are going to be bolder and more aggressive within these criminal organizations than ever before, hence the ability to respond and track in almost real time now matters.”
“Overall, there is still significant risk to staff, reliability, and corporate brand reputation,” Strickland said. “The message here is: there is a greater understanding of potentially how fragile our organizations are and there is a heightened call for resilience.”
The weakness of poorly paid and poorly trained security guards has been exposed even as technologies have improved, said Buckner. “Melding better technology than ever before and leveraging that to have less poorly trained guards… you end up with a much better solution if you create the right standard operating procedure,” he said.
Buckner is encouraged by the low-cost security options for homes, but said there is a cautionary tale: “it all comes down to the security of those platforms.” Most often, he said, technologies such as doorbell cameras create “wonderful convenience” but “frankly they don’t care much about cybersecurity.” This problem is exacerbated by weak passwords and vulnerable Wi-Fi networks.
“Once bad things happen… if you’re still relying on 911 only… the real question is how effective is EMS, Fire, and Police depending on where you live in the current environment, and how well trained is your guard force to respond,” said Buckner.
Busker has seen more property crime in the past 15 to 18 months than he has in the past five years. He recounted a transition in his business from security cameras to private security guards and, eventually, to monitored cameras that can track and evaluate suspicious activity.
Busker emphasized the importance of a security strategy that is based on:
Prevention. “I spend all my resources and capital on prevention,” Busker said—installing monitored cameras and physical barriers, “making it where it is very, very difficult to take anything.”
Training employees to be vigilant and confront suspicious activity.
Building relationships with local law enforcement.
Addressing the Threats
Strickland contemplated the suggestion that people be trained to “think like technologists.” Technologies, he said, are vital in managing a mobile workforce—whether it is people working from home or those who are traveling for work. At CSL, technologies are also used to track the location and temperature of its products, and for capital project management for tech transfers. Such an approach, Strickland explained, helps from a security aspect and also reduces operational costs.
Furthermore, he emphasized the importance of leveraging partners and the need to have preventative measures and a response plan that meets a company’s duty of care obligations. Toward this end, he said it is important to:
Know your risk
Know where your people are located
“How do I track people and make sure I am taking care of them,” said Strickland, “and how do I have geofences around all of my physical assets—whether it is a fixed asset or a mobile asset—and then from there, once we detect something [unusual] using intelligence, what actions do we take on the backside of that? Do people know what to do?”
With risks and threats constantly evolving, Strickland said, it is important to know where your vulnerabilities are and how threats impact your asset.
The cyber security challenge...
As governments around the world imposed lockdowns in an effort to slow the spread of COVID-19, large numbers of people have been forced to work (and attend schools and colleges) from home, often on inadequately secured networks.
How does one mitigate the risk?
“You want to defend first,” said McGarrity. “You want to be on a good firewall and virtual private networks because what your kids are doing is bringing that threat through TikTok and other things into the home and, obviously, it can impact business as well.” He suggested being careful when using social media—don’t divulge your location when you are on vacation, for example, as this sends a clear signal to criminals that your home is unattended.
Furthermore, McGarrity said, young children should be taught to be careful about their digital footprint. “We are seeing that play out in the college process now where colleges are looking at young teens and their social media profiles,” he said. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in June that a Pennsylvania high school had violated a student’s First Amendment rights by punishing her for using vulgar language that criticized the school on social media.
The United STates is a target
Over the past few years, the United States has been hit by a steady wave of cyberattacks that have impacted everything from federal government agencies (for example, the SolarWinds hack) to oil pipelines. Buckner said another major cyberattack on a U.S. government agency has been detected and will soon be revealed. These attacks have often been traced back to actors in China and Russia.
Buckner said the U.S. government is at least 20 to 25 years behind on cybersecurity. “As a nation, we have never taken this seriously enough… You cannot ignore it. You cannot assume you are not going to be targeted and/or penetrated,” he said. Corporate America, on the other hand, is well ahead of the U.S. government on addressing this issue, he said.
Noting the superior cyber capabilities of China and Russia, Buckner said: “For every countermeasure we post, [China and Russia] are going to be looking for another avenue. We are now forever in a digital war… for the rest of our lives.”
He added: “If you haven’t changed your policies [to address this challenge], you are behind.”
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