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In this blog, our experienced Fivecast Tradecraft Advisor, explores the dynamic security environment and its impact on commercial organizations, identifying how businesses can proactively identify threats and vulnerabilities with advanced OSINT capabilities.

Risk and Resilience: Overcoming Geo-political Headwinds

Every security commentator or threat assessment these days seems to talk of ‘increasing complexity’ in the security environment. For those of us who’ve paid close attention to the international security dynamic over the last decade, there is generally no argument that the world is increasingly fractured and multi-polar, with an ever-shifting range of threats.

A related trend is the extent to which this complex security environment directly and significantly impacts private companies and organizations. Often historically considered a problem for governments, the deteriorating and fractured geo-political environment now clearly impacts the decisions of C-suite executives as well as government ministers.

Recent events highlight the trend: the increasing complexity of business decision- making raises the urgent need for private organizations to adopt government-level capabilities and risk mitigation. This is no longer a luxury but a necessity for organizations to protect their interests.

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One notable recent incident was the temporary closure of 100 Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC) stores in Malaysia after a boycott movement linked to Israel’s military activity in Gaza. Many in the majority-Muslim nation see American fast-food operators as closely related to Israel, and their refusal to buy KFC products left the chain reeling; reportedly forcing the closure of more than 100 outlets across the country, citing “challenging economic conditions.” In today’s hyper-connected world, a conflict on one side of the globe – with no immediately apparent link to the supply of fried food – can significantly impact a fast-food franchise in another hemisphere.

balancing academic policy and national security

It’s not just companies that are grappling with the fallout from geo-strategic tensions. Western Universities are increasingly finding themselves in a difficult position. They are torn between the potential commercial advantage of enrolling students from autocratic, non-aligned states and the information security and human rights-related risks associated with this cohort.

  • Last month, UK intelligence agencies warned leading British universities that foreign states were targeting their cutting-edge research to boost their own militaries and economies. This is of concern to Western governments due to the associated loss of military edge and to the university and its academic staff due to the potential economic loss associated with the theft of intellectual property.
  • According to recent media reporting, from August 2024, some universities in England are expected to have to change or end partnerships with countries such as China, which is known for linking scholarship grants to ideological alignment with the Chinese Community Party (CCP) and has in the past sought to monitor and control students through embassies and consulates in Western countries.

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Compliance and Consequences: The role of Sanctions

As a further example, it’s clear that as Western governments continue to ramp up Russia-related sanctions, the vast array of black-listed arms, shipping, mining and banking institutions continues to grow exponentially.

  • Just last week, the US Department of Treasury introduced additional sanctions on more than a dozen companies in China and Hong Kong accused of supporting Russia’s military-industrial program.
  •  According to media reporting, since the start of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the UK has sanctioned more than 1,600 individuals and entities (including 29 banks) and 96% (more than £20 billion) of U.K.-Russia trade.

When you consider the convoluted supply chains of most sanctioned entities and the range of intermediaries – such as financial institutions – with which they deal, the complexity associated with all parties complying with international sanctions regimes is staggering. The penalties associated with non-compliance are staggering, with fines for violations often in excess of multi-million dollars.

navigating risk: strategies for due diligence and employee screening

In this context then, it is no surprise to see commercial organizations across the spectrum reaching for a more sophisticated array of tools and capabilities to mitigate their risk and protect their interests. Robust screening, vetting, and due diligence practises are now the bare minimum, with the cost of being uninformed and unaware simply too high.

Much of the data required to navigate the uncertainty and complexity, in fact, ‘hide in plain sight’. The vast majority is publicly available and often cheap to acquire. These days, the challenge lies in the vastness of data available to the decision-maker. How do you sift and navigate? How do you sort and prioritize? What to weigh and what to disregard? Manual processes for accessing and assessing open-source information are simply too time-intensive and laborious.

The rigour and depth of background checking and intelligence-led assessments conducted by private companies, universities and financial institutions is also – of necessity – increasing. Superficial checking, incomplete datasets and cursory analysis may present to a CEO or Vice Chancellor initially as the more cost-effective way of doing business, but it’s increasingly clear that shortcuts have a sting in the tail. As such, we see private organizations progressively adopting the tools and processes traditionally deployed by law enforcement and national security agencies, viewing such an investment as ultimately protecting their bottom lines.

For further information on bespoke due diligence and KYC datasets, as well as tools to undertake background screening and digital footprints comprehensively and at scale, contact Fivecast, a market-leading global provider of OSINT solutions. With capabilities such as continuous assessments of publicly available information and AI-enabled analytics, Fivecast empowers analysts to uncover threats in a person’s digital footprint. Whether you’re involved in security clearance processes, insider threat detection, or personnel screening Fivecast can enhance your risk assessment efforts.

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