External data hygiene protects your workforce

External Data Hygiene is a Literal Lifesaver for Targeted Industries

What can proactive employers in controversial, targeted industries do to help protect their workforce from the ballooning risk of terrorist threats/attacks?  The number, frequency and intensity of attacks on workers within targeted industries is on the rise.  Privacy Bee shares the evidence of this troubling trend as well as some external data hygiene strategies for protecting your workforce from physical and emotional harm if your operations are in the cross hairs of controversy.

American industry is operating in polarized times.  So many critical issues have been thrust to the forefront of America’s psyche and demand immediate resolution.  Climate change and energy policy, reproductive rights and the recent rollback of women’s bodily autonomy by the Supreme Court, civil rights of transgendered persons, mass shootings and the rising call for gun control – all of these long-time social and political debates have grown more heated and combative than ever.  For overheated partisans, the debate increasingly veers into violence and attacks on workers in controversial industry roles are spiking.    

Axios published troubling data about increases in violence directed at abortion clinics and providers, which data shows had risen by 128% in 2021.  Assault and battery was the leading incident type in the Axios report, followed closely by property vandalism and suspicious packages.  The National Abortion Federation numbers showed a 600% increase in stalking, a 63% increase in burglaries, 54% increase in vandalism and 80% increased in bomb threats in 2022. 

In Japan in 2022, environmental activists threw soup at a priceless Van Gogh painting of sunflowers to protest the lack of political action in protecting the environment.  In April 2023, the premier of “How to Blow Up a Pipeline”, a film described as “nerve jangling”, tells the story of climate activists taking the fight beyond the peaceful protest which has been largely ineffective at stemming the acceleration of climate change.  The script, though fictional, draws on the real-life experiences of Jessica Reznicek and Ruby Montoya who were jailed for terrorism after vandalizing the Dakota Access Pipeline in attempts to stop its completion.

Of course, no one needs to be reminded of the mass shootings taking place in the United States at a record pace in 2023.  Favored targets of these horrific crimes include schools, houses of worship and drag shows.  As a result, the workforce in these three diverse occupations are in the literal cross hairs of extremists who would inflict grave harm on these groups to make their political points.  Surprisingly, we haven’t yet seen any significant threats/attacks directed at the leadership of gun manufacturing companies.  But we have seen plenty of threats of violence against those politicians (and their staffs) promising to enact more stringent gun control legislation.

As is often the case with violent-minded individuals, the irrational rage they seek to voice is not directed at any one person or place in particular.  Rather, these angry individuals and groups seek to inflict damage upon persons or locations that represent the industry or organization they feel represents the industry as a whole.  A simple internet search quickly provides a violent actor with lists of locations and/or individuals nearby to serve as targets.  For those with a more specific target/person in mind, Data Brokers, People Search Sites, unprotected social media profiles, corporate websites and search engines can provide a threat actor with all they need to find a specific executive or physical location to plan an attack upon.

Good External Data Hygiene Saves Lives

For organizations at risk of being targeted, it would seem like a significant benefit from a staffing standpoint to develop, enforce and promote policies and governance addressing personal security and on the job safety.  In today’s tight labor market, extending such a benefit can even be a strong differentiator – making a hiring organization more attractive to candidates who know they work in industries with a higher risk of attack.

In order to deliver on such a set of policies, organizations must address the means by which bad actors can find out information on key employees, locations or other specific information about a would-be target.  Like other privacy threats – social engineering attacks, ransomware, IP theft, employee/HR poaching and others – the key concern is strengthening external data privacy.  Read Privacy Bee white paper “Doxxing, Swatting and Other Physical Threats – An Online Privacy Epidemic” for a deep dive into external data privacy definitions and examples.

To summarize, it is very easy for anyone to find out personal information about any individual they may wish to target by simply searching the person’s name on the sites of Data Brokers and People Search sites.  The information available is not only focused on a target’s work location and schedule, but also available is a ton of personal information about a person’s life outside of work, their family, friends, activities and leisure habits.  The vast troves of data available from data brokers and people search sites is exposed in Privacy Bee white paper, “Exposing the Threat to Data Privacy by Data Brokers & People Search Sites”.

To remove the threat, organizations must embark on campaigns to improve external data hygiene and this means removing as much of their employees’ personally identifiable information, or PII, as possible from all sources on the internet.  Sounds like a daunting task doesn’t it?  The truth is, finding all the sources of PII for every employee in an organization is something any organization can get done for no charge at Privacy Bee for Business.  Privacy Risk Assessment and External Data Privacy Audits are automated and available at no cost for any organization wanting to at least determine their current exposure.

Once the risks have been identified and cataloged, Privacy Bee provides low-cost options for handling the removal of all data found on every member of the organization.  From a cost benefit standpoint, the cost of preventing violent attacks on your organization and its people is far lower than the damage to the brand and reputation that comes with being victimized.  As employment candidates (and all Americans) continue to awaken to the threat of poor external data hygiene and other privacy concerns, organizations that adopt a proactive policy posture on privacy will enjoy reputational and strategic advantage in hiring/staffing. 

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