Grievance Driven Post-Covid19 Threats to Business

Philip Grindell
Written by Philip Grindell
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Covid19 has been unprecedented and its legacy may include grievance-driven threats. It has had a global impact, thousands of people have died, many are still suffering. The world has changed. We are embracing new technologies and rethinking how we will engage as we move towards a new reality. Online meetings are now the norm and the idea of traveling into the cities for a short meeting, when we can now jump online and have the same meeting, saving time, money and possibly increasing our reach is a distant memory.

Predictions of economic depression are rife, with fears of huge redundancies, businesses failing, and the possibility of repossessions and lack of opportunities the only connection to abundance.

When we consider these predictions of doom and compound that with the emergence of the Black Lives Matter campaign and the changes that that will rightfully bring, there is a feeling of no longer having any control over what happens next. That view and the potential emerging global recession is enough to cause fear and anxiety and with it grievances.

There will be significant changes and included in these changes will be new grievance driven threats and Defuse has the expertise to counter them.

I predict there will be an increase in the threat from Social Engineering, often described as the art of exploiting human psychology, rather than technical hacking techniques, to gain access to buildings, systems or data. In one of my online meetings this week I had the good fortune to seek the advice of a brilliantly talented business leader with a track record of building billion-pound businesses, often with the tech and cyber sector, who suggested that data will be the new oil.

What will be new, is the source and motivation of these threats. If predictions are correct and we move into a global recession with mass redundancies, we will see a huge wave of disenfranchised people left with little but feelings of grievance driven anger and being let down. This was articulated in a recent article in The Times in which insurance companies expressed the fear of a backlash due to increased costs making the look greedy. (

The threats will be generated by two groups, those made redundant and the activists. The common denominator will be the fuel…. grievances!

This is an important factor as when we review the historic attacks on public figures they invariably start with a grievance. Calhoun and Weston produced a widely used model which they called ‘The Pathway to Violence’. The model starts with the subject having a grievance and then progresses through a number of steps, in which there are opportunities for interdiction, climaxing in an attack. Routinely, the attack is seen as a physical attack, however I would add that the term ‘attack’ can be expanded to include reputational, psychological or financial attack as examples. Defuse Global has added to this model to indicate what and where the appropriate interdiction must take place.

An example from a previous recession is that of Robert Ashman. He was from a middle-class family. He was married, had a good job and two children. But redundancy, bankruptcy and divorce eventually triggered a mental disorder that transformed him into a killer. Over a period of time he believed that a number of utility companies were part of a conspiracy to destroy him. His marriage of 25 years failed, his home repossessed, and his once successful career as a drainage engineer in ruins his mental health deteriorated. Feeling that the system had robbed him of the life he felt he had earned, and the ability to give his daughters a future he had hoped for, he struck back. In 2000, he attended the office of his local MP, a man who has supported him for years. Armed with a Samurai sword he attacked the MP, and subsequently killed his assistant who had come to the MPs aid.

Having discussed this case with the MP in question, I know that there were opportunities to prevent this situation escalating as it did.

An article published in the International Journal of Mathematics and Computer Sciences identified that one of the motivations for social engineering was revenge or personal grievances held by former employees, customers, business competitors or others (activists) that are in conflict with the values of a company and seek to damage the reputation or the business itself to satisfy their grudge. These attacks seek to gain critical information, and one of the most potent methods is to collate personal information about the company leader and use it to damage their reputation.

This is done by searching the internet and social media platforms, where it is quite usual to find a wealth of information that is far too liberally shared.

The information available online is used for a number of different methods of attack. Despite the ‘best’ efforts of the social media giants, false profiles are still rife and the when used to publish harmful and damaging statements, even the best strategic communications agency struggles to repair the damage. A reputation that has taken a lifetime to build, can be permanently tarnished in minutes with re-posting, re-tweeting and global publishing.

The targeting of families is another popular approach. Conscious that today’s business leaders are well cocooned, resilient and hard to get to, the aggrieved have taken to targeting their families. The harassment, intimidation and anxiety caused to families puts significant pressure on business leaders with the psychological stress caused impacts on decision making and diminishing motivation. This tactic has been successfully used against a number of politicians I personally looked after as well as high profile business leaders in the UK and abroad.

The same method has been used by activists and was one of the tactics used against the directors of Heathrow Airport Ltd when the ‘Third runway’ debates were at their most prominent. Videos of directors being confronted outside their homes, with groups protesting with banners and intimidating their children do nothing to strengthen the brand. To compound the challenge the new employee activist, with celebrity endorsements, acts as an insider threat, releasing confidential information, leading colleagues on strikes, and forcing companies to change their policies. There was a spate of such attacks in the US recently. Wayfair were once such company whose employees walked out following the expose that one of their suppliers also supplied an immigration detention centre. The CEO suggested it wasn’t their role to discriminate and take political sides. The employees took a different view and forced a change in policy.

Mindful of the emergence of the Black Lives Matters campaign, it is worth remembering that Nike were forced to withdraw one of their shoes in light of the protests led by Colin Kaepernick. We are yet to see the ramifications of the businesses whose history can be connected to the slave trade, but we will.

The cyber security world is a multibillion-pound industry, however even when including new products recently launched, software is not the vulnerability in the battle for information security, humans that use the internet and social media are.

Defuse provides a number of programmes designed to combat this threat, whereby personal information is exploited.

Our Digital Vulnerability Audit provides reassurance by providing a full review of what is available about you or those that pose a threat, and where appropriate (see Ashman) identifying the pre attack indicators. Completed by our researchers, experienced in combatting organised criminals and terrorists, we know where the information is hidden. Currently available to our high-profile clients, automation will soon expand our reach. Our bespoke personal touch enables us to be flexible and to coin a phrase ‘follow the money’ without getting tricked into the proverbial rabbit hole.

Conversely, The Privacy Package does the opposite and conceals your information. Our expertise, with particular reference to the UK, enables us to advise our clients how to become anonymous and reduce the risk of being targeted in either the real or virtual environment. The Privacy Package will ensure that you feel safer, reduce your exposure, and your anxiety.

The SAFER Model is the all-encompassing investigative process that is a high-quality product designed to serve the high-profile market. It’s designed to tackle and ‘defuse’ any grievance driven threats received, identifying the source of the it, and using the forensic skill set that prevented the next “Jo Cox’ attack on a second female political in Parliament.

The processes that Defuse provides have been operationally stress tested on the front line, where it really matters,where lives were at risk and are supported by academic researched methodology.

When the Covid19 lockdown occurred, those companies that chose that as an opportunity to be proactive, adapt and prepare will undoubtedly be the ones to now benefit and exploit the opportunities available. Playing catch up is expensive and risky.

The same can be said for combating the grievance driven threats discussed in this article. Those companies that are proactive will benefit from the Digital Vulnerability Audit, The Privacy Package and The SAFER Model.

The remainder risk long term reputational harm, financial loss and the anxiety of being targeted.
To find out more, get in touch and have a complimentary and confidential discussion, and feel safer in public life.

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