Travel Risk Management: Protect Your Team With Social Media Intelligence

October 21, 2021

The ability to hold face-to-face meetings online has not reduced the need for corporate travel. More than ever, organizations are sending their personnel on business trips internationally. Travel risk management is a growing industry that proactively mitigates security threats for business travelers.

What is travel risk management?

Effective travel risk management not only addresses how an organization responds when a security threat arises but also how to monitor potential threats and prevent travelers from encountering them. Social media has long played a role in informing the security industry, and its applications are quickly evolving. Social media threat intelligence is now a crucial tool for any organization sending its employees abroad.

Gain situational awareness

The types of risks facing travelers are constantly changing. Public alerts and news feeds often lack context, and further validation is required to determine appropriate security actions. Social media threat intelligence helps provide nuanced information that’s useful for gaining situational awareness about a potential threat: 

  • Where exactly is the threat located? 
  • How severe is it? 
  • What is happening on the ground? 
  • What security risks could this threat trigger?

Location-based tools like Echosec can access and locate relevant data faster and more comprehensively than many similar social media applications. The depth of information provided in a location-based tool improves the ability for security teams to gain situational awareness about a threat and respond appropriately.

Assess and respond to threats faster

Travel risk management processes of the past involved manually digging through social media pages to monitor particular events and locations for potential security risks. Researching data providers that way is a time-consuming and unreliable risk assessment method. 

Echosec’s social media intelligence tools are capable of aggregating data from multiple providers, often in real-time. Users can search by provider, location, keyword, and username, and filter saved searches for images, violent sentiments, or events related to security threats. Security management teams can be notified via email around-the-clock when potential security risks arise and take appropriate action immediately.

Costs associated with interrupted travel programs and assignments can also be avoided with social media data aggregation. If there are natural disasters, accidents, or any other threats near a traveler’s route or destination, security teams can assess the incident in advance of their arrival and take a proactive approach to their security strategy.

Determine the exact location of potential threats

If your VIP is traveling for business, location-based social media intelligence is crucial for ensuring their safety and security. Rather than only tracking social media pages or hashtags, geofencing tools can track social media activity across a number of providers based on location.

Geofencing is an incredibly useful tool for any travel risk management plan. It allows users to draw a border around a specific location and monitor relevant social media activity within it. A geofence can contain an area as specific as a transportation route, as large as a city, or as small as a building. Facilities or routes where your personnel are headed can be monitored before and during an event to assess and mitigate threats.

Searching for geotagged photos and posts means that users can see exactly what’s happening and where on the ground in real-time. Security teams can determine if routes are obstructed or unsafe and alter travel plans accordingly, or act quickly if an emergency response is necessary.

Stay more informed and prepared in high-risk areas

Effective travel risk management is vital to protecting travelers where security and medical services may be unreliable. Travellers in areas susceptible to natural disasters, terrorism or political unrest need to rely on more than just travel advisories or an action plan to stay safe.

Social media intelligence provides security teams with vital information to protect travelers in high-risk areas. Location-based tools can monitor potential threats across a number of social media data sources. This equips security teams with on-the-ground situational awareness in areas where access to other up-to-date communications and news feeds may be lacking or be much slower than social media.

Social media intelligence is now a crucial part of travel risk management as more organizations send their employees abroad. Location-based tools such as Echosec can help prevent and mitigate security threats by aggregating relevant data in real-time.

Five travel risks executive protection teams must consider

There are five new travel risks that Executive Protection Teams must consider due to shifts in the threat landscape. In June of 2021, over double the number of travelers passed through TSA checkpoints than in January. These numbers will only rise as borders reopen—but what new risks can business travelers expect in the post-COVID world, even when fully vaccinated?

Back in 2019, a GBTA survey revealed that 46% of UK and US business travelers work for companies that lack transparent travel security policies. Organizations that still fall into this category are more likely to risk executive safety as travel resumes in an even more complex and unpredictable threat landscape.

The good news is that a well-informed travel risk management strategy helps organizations stay ahead of COVID-era travel risks as executives hit the road. 

The key is finding the right information at the right time. Travel risk information is increasingly available on public online sources like social media, news, and other unindexed sites. Easy access to relevant data can give existing executive protection functions the intel required to understand and respond to emerging travel risks more quickly and effectively.

What new travel risks should executive protection teams be aware of, and how can online data support a more robust strategy?

1. COVID-19 Transmission

COVID-19 vaccination rates and accessibility vary widely by country and region. Fully vaccinated people may still be at risk for variants during international travel. Even in countries with higher vaccination rates, executives and other personnel attending conferences could be in close contact with individuals originating from a variety of different regions.

2. Travel logistics and disruptions

Global business travelers are likely to face more complex or lengthy processes when it comes to Visas, border crossings, quarantines, and testing. Travel restrictions can change rapidly and result in delays, potentially complicating an executive’s safe return home. 

In the event of a sudden crisis—like political volatility or a terrorist attack—business travelers are often required to make last-minute detours to nearby countries. This process may be more challenging or even impossible depending on surrounding border restrictions.

Localized news and media sources are valuable for accessing up-to-date information about travel restrictions abroad. Since executive protection teams may be unfamiliar with relevant news sources in other countries, web monitoring tools like the Echosec Systems Platform are useful for aggregating and translating content from multilingual sources.

3. Social unrest

The pandemic has spurred unemployment, austerity measures, and disinformation, influencing a rise in violent demonstrations and domestic extremism. Minimized foot traffic combined with economic downturns can also change crime rates and public safety in previously safe regions and neighborhoods. Business travelers may be unprepared for this shift.

4. Inadequate crisis response

Unexpected crises like natural disasters and terrorist attacks aren’t new travel risks since the pandemic started. However, some countries may now be less equipped to handle such events because their emergency resources and infrastructure have been exhausted through pandemic response. And while international terrorism hasn’t made headlines lately, some argue that the pandemic and resulting social instability creates an environment ripe for terrorist activity and recruitment—which may become evident as borders re-open.

As bystanders observe unfolding crises through their devices, social media is often the earliest and most reliable source of risk information. This can reduce blind spots for security teams who need to send in additional resources for traveling executives and personnel when a crisis hits. Less-regulated social networks and messaging apps like Telegram are also valuable for monitoring and assessing terrorist activity in vulnerable regions.

5. Cyber threats

According to a report by International SOS, less than a third of organizations include cybersecurity in their travel policies. Since the pandemic’s onset, cybercriminals have been exploiting public fear and domestic workforces to create COVID-themed phishing campaigns and target vulnerable networks. 

Increased cyber risks are likely to persist as travel resumes. For example, executives could be more likely to connect to unsecured Wifi networks while traveling. Adversaries may also leverage the knowledge of an executive’s whereabouts to create a more convincing phishing email.

Executive protection teams can monitor for online content revealing an executive’s business travel plans—like social media posts mentioning a specific conference or airport. Minimizing the accessibility of this information can inhibit cybercriminals from exploiting it for phishing and business email compromise (BEC) scams. Unindexed web spaces like paste sites and dark web forums also alert security teams to data leaks and exploitation strategies implicating executive safety.

Addressing new travel risks with security software

In addition to travel insurance, extensive planning, and robust cybersecurity protocols, public online data is a valuable asset for executive protection teams. This information can minimize or prevent physical harm to business travelers, as well as financial and business loss associated with disrupted travel. 

But narrowing in on relevant online data when it matters most is not viable without specialized search tools. Data discovery software allows executive protection teams to find critical location-based content, risk indicators, and other insights across hard-to-search sites in just a few clicks. In the event of a sudden crisis, travel restriction change, or disease outbreak, this speed-to-information can make or break a response.

Every organization that sends its personnel on business travel has a duty of care—a moral and legal obligation to manage employee safety. The COVID-19 pandemic has transformed what this duty looks like for travel risk management teams in 2021, and likely for years to come. As new threats emerge, executive protection teams will require online data to make more informed, timely decisions in response to risk.

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