Even The World’s Richest Person Couldn’t Stop A Nude Selfie Leak

When Jeff Bezos alleged in a blog post Thursday that he was the victim of blackmail attempts by the publisher of the National Enquirer, he underscored risks particular to billionaires in the digital age.


Wealthy Too Often Think ‘I’m Untouchable’

“The perception among very affluent people is often ‘I have this level of wealth, I’m untouchable,’” said Mark Johnson, Chief Executive Officer of Sovereign Intelligence, a McLean, Virgina-based risk analytics firm. “But the systems they have in place for protecting their personal identifiable information are very weak.”

Ask any family office about its biggest fears and cybersecurity is near the top. Personal protection no longer involves just bodyguards and a top-notch alarm system. The internet age has seen a massive shift in people storing their most sensitive and personal data online, where it’s vulnerable to hacking and intrusion.


Affluent Focus On Physical Safety, Overlook Digital Security

Ultra-wealthy individuals are particularly susceptible because so much of their data are often centralised through family offices, which typically lack the robust firewalls and encryption capabilities of banks and large corporations.

Johnson, a former case officer with the Naval Criminal Investigative Service, said he’s worked with clients with more than $40 billion in assets who had a “Secret Service-type physical security – probably even better – and yet there was an absolute disconnect between that physical security and the digital protection.”

It’s unclear how the tabloid obtained Bezos’s texts. The Amazon.com Inc. founder, who has a net worth of $133.9 billion, said in his blog post that he’d authorised security chief Gavin de Becker “to proceed with whatever budget he needed” to get to the bottom of the leak.

Security experts say potential entry points for a digital invasion are numerous.


Wealthy Are Facing both, Financial And ‘Legacy’ Risks

“We all have devices we carry and they each have their own point of vulnerability,” said Kris Coleman, founder of intelligence-services firm Red Five Security.

Banking information, identity data, even health information and travel schedules can expose someone to a breach. Those in billionaires’ inner circles are a particular risk for the information they have access to and could share, either maliciously or inadvertently.

“Private, affluent families need to consider themselves targets that are on par with nation states,” Coleman said.

Coleman and Johnson are both members of RANE, a network of risk-management professionals from banks, law firms, family offices and corporation.

The wealthy aren’t just at risk of losing money through hacks. Their brands, reputations – or, in family office parlance, “legacy” – also can be damaged.

“My message to affluent families: don’t assume you’re OK,” Coleman said. “Because most of them aren’t.”

 

© Bloomberg, by Devon Pendleton and Anders Melin


February 11, 2019