Threats to corporate security are on the rise

Nov. 18, 2022

By almost every metric, the world is less stable and more prone to disruption than it was just a few years ago. We face a multifaceted portfolio of intersecting challenges and threat vectors, both domestic and international, directly jeopardizing the security of nation-states, business enterprises, and individuals.

The growing volume of real-time threats demands the undivided attention of companies and corporate leaders who have a responsibility to ensure that executives, employees, operations, assets, and customers are protected from such disruption. That protection is contingent in part on the capacity to deliver comprehensive and effective duty-of-care services around safety, security, health, and travel.

Survey Shows Execs are Cognizant of Higher Risk

In this multi-layered threat landscape, companies and corporate leaders must make risk mitigation a top priority. In Global Guardian’s recent report on security threats and corporate duty of care practices, we found reassuring evidence that senior-level security and human resources professionals at the largest companies are more cognizant of the increase in domestic and international threats to their enterprises and employees.

 Two-thirds of corporate leaders surveyed reported an increase in the number of security threats facing their organization compared to 2019, and most noted that their organizations have expanded their security budgets in the past year – mainly in response to emerging risks.

The COVID-19 pandemic is perhaps the most profound development that companies have experienced in recent memory; it brought global enterprise operations to a standstill and catalyzed a transformation of the workplace through remote and hybrid work models. It is no surprise, then, that almost all security and human resources professionals told Global Guardian that their company experienced a safety or security crisis as a result of COVID-19.

The core challenge for companies during the pandemic was undoubtedly keeping their employees and workplaces safe from COVID-19. However, companies also needed to reckon with the fact that much of their workforce was no longer in the office and many are still operating with remote and hybrid models today. That means employees who are outside the scope of enterprise networks and corporate firewalls or use personal devices and WiFi networks for work, present a cybersecurity risk that many companies still lack the resources to address.

Cybersecurity is an Attention-Getter

Today, some of the most dangerous criminals are the ones masked behind a computer screen. In 2021 alone, ransomware damage reached $20 billion globally, a stunning sixty-fold increase compared to 2015.

Corporate leaders are well aware of this fact; security and human resources professionals surveyed cited cybersecurity as the most concerning threat to the safety and well-being of employees. As companies continue to face such threats to their enterprise operations, it is more critical than ever to develop a framework to protect their corporate assets and train employees to avoid falling victim to cyberattacks.

The pandemic and growing cybercrime, however, are not the only threat vectors that companies and organizations have needed to address over the past three years. Any threat response assessment would be remiss to ignore the growing intensity and impact of natural disasters and extreme weather events, both in the United States and in countries abroad. Since 2020, wildfires have wreaked havoc in regions like western North America and Australia, killing tens of thousands of people each year. Hurricanes and storms are becoming stronger and more destructive from the American Gulf Coast to South Asia. Droughts in East Africa and other arid regions place millions at risk of starvation. And scientists forecast that rising sea levels will displace hundreds of millions of people in the coming decades.

Global Unrest and Natural Disasters Pose Risks

Natural disasters rank among the most significant perceived threats to companies and employees, according to security and human resources professionals. Moreover, around one-third of companies have experienced a safety or security crisis as a result of a recent natural disaster. To mitigate this ever-present threat, companies must formulate contingency plans and risk management strategies that protect their employees and assets in the event a natural disaster affects their enterprise or traveling employees.

In the past three years, geopolitical tensions and regional conflicts have emerged as major sources of disruption for companies and organizations with a global reach. In turn, almost half of security and human resources professionals now list such incidents as a major concern.

Europe is facing its largest military conflict since World War II as Russia moves forward with its attempted annexation of territory in Ukraine. The war in Eastern Europe is causing major disruptions to trans-Atlantic supply chains, particularly in agriculture and energy, and many corporate leaders said that the conflict has already led to a safety or security crisis within their companies. The increasingly belligerent rhetoric around the use of nuclear weapons from Moscow is also creating even more uncertainty for companies with a European presence.

While the Russia-Ukraine war shows no signs of slowing down, another regional conflict is brewing on the other side of the world. In a recent speech, Chinese President Xi Jinping reiterated that China would continue to press for “unification” with Taiwan, including through the use of force if necessary. This rhetoric, along with China’s repeated incursions into Taiwanese airspace, is putting companies with business interdependencies in the region on high alert. A majority of corporate leaders are concerned about a potential conflict and believe their company would experience some level of business, economic, or security risk if Cross-Strait relations worsen.

An invasion of Taiwan by China would upend the global economy and create historic global disruptions for companies that operate in the Indo-Pacific or source materials and products from the region. The Indo-Pacific is a cornerstone of global trade and investment, particularly in high-tech and advanced manufacturing industries – it is a region that companies cannot afford to ignore.

Make a Plan, Work the Plan

Despite companies and enterprise leaders indicating a high degree of confidence in their internal crisis response plans, there remains a significant gap in preparedness. Almost two-thirds of security and human resources professionals surveyed reported needing additional help from a security provider in response to a recent crisis or incident their company faced. Many companies also fail to regularly pressure test their risk management strategies and response plans. Only half of corporate leaders said their companies brainstorm or simulate potential safety and security situations at least once annually; such practices are a simple but effective way to reduce vulnerabilities and ensure full-spectrum preparation against threats. Moreover, less than half of corporate leaders believe that most of their employees would know how to respond to an emergency while traveling for work.

The surging volume of real-time threats will continue to affect companies and organizations not just in faraway places abroad but right here at home. In turn, corporate leaders and other decision-makers must be able to effectively manage risk and mitigate existing gaps in their preparedness. Ignoring the urgency of these threats will only put their companies, assets, employees, and customers at further risk.

About the author: Dale Buckner is the CEO of Global Guardian, a McLean, VA-based global security firm that provides its clients with access to a comprehensive suite of duty-of-care services.