As cyber attacks on organisations continue to increase, so too do the vulnerabilities of high profile individuals to online hacks. Last week’s headline of David Beckham’s emails being breached is just one example in a sequence of attacks on influential individuals, where one major data breach could cost a celebrity their knighthood and a high net worth family their reputation. With digital crime now posing one of the greatest threats to the famous and influential, there has never been a more pressing need for high net worth individuals to shift their focus from self-protection in the physical world, to the virtual realm.

The growing sophistication of cyber crime threatens us all, however high net worth individuals make a particularly attractive target especially as they are often unaware of just how vulnerable they can be in the online world. The value of their assets makes them a high return target, with a low risk of getting caught for cyber criminals. Cyber criminals are using a number of different methods to attack their high net worth targets – from monitoring the online behaviour of individuals to siphon off money; using a threat of extortion from personal information gained in a data breach; manipulating interactions via social media to blackmail their victims; and even physical theft of their target’s IT systems.

Individuals in the public eye have long been a target for hacking – 2014 saw an en masse hack of the iCloud accounts of multiple celebrities. Obama’s personal emails were also accessed by Russian hackers in the same year and even Mark Zuckerberg suffered a breach of both his Twitter and Pinterest accounts in 2016. However it is not only celebrities who are coming under attack. Security experts have found a significant increase in the number of cyber crimes against the very wealthy, with attackers ‘trawling through wealth managers’ websites…to target the super-rich’.[1]

The Panama Papers breach revealed the tax avoidance efforts of high net worth individuals on a large number of offshore investments causing widespread financial and reputational embarrassment. The leak first exposed an offshore investment of Iceland’s prime minister, Sigmundur Gunnlaugsson, which resulted in his forced resignation as he came under fierce attack from the Icelandic public. Board level executives of multi-national organisations are also being targeted in ‘whaling’ attacks whereby scammers target C-Level Executives posing with authority, often requesting sensitive information or for electronic transfers to be made. Former CEO of Airbus and Boeing-supplier FACC, Walter Stephan, was caught out when a scammer posing as the company’s President, tricked Stephan into transferring 50 million euros. Stephan and the company’s CFO were subsequently removed from their posts.

Attack vectors are evolving and high net worth individuals need to keep abreast of these changes. Trusted employees are becoming a greater third party threat to high net worth individuals as cyber criminals look to increase their attack surface by targeting workers like the family nannies, drivers or cleaners. The employees may not have malicious intent but may unknowingly provide a path for criminals to complete a successful data breach or attack on a personal network.[2]

Templar Executives has been involved in protecting people, property and international assets for the last decade and we are seeing an increase in clients needing specialist services in this area. This comes as no surprise as almost half of multi-million dollar international family offices do not currently have ‘dedicated cyber security’, leaving them wide open to attacks.[3] A comprehensive cyber security program is an essential investment for high net worth individuals and their families in order to promote awareness and knowledge, and observe best practices when it comes to self-protection in the physical and virtual world.