The Financial Post
The CEO Special Report
By Laura Ramsay, For The Financial Post. June 4, 1990.
Protecting a company's assets includes protecting its senior executives.
A growing number of corporations are turning to security consultants to help ensure that top people -- and the information they're privy to -- aren't compromised by competitors. terrorists, extortionists or disgruntled employees trying to even a score.
Kevin Bousquet is president of a Scarborough, Ontario-based Protect Your Business, which provides security analysis to corporations, arranges to have corporate offices "swept" to determine whether listening devices have been planted in them, and markets counter electronic surveillance (anti-bugging) products.
"There's a growing demand," he says. "It's still not a huge business, but it increases every year."
With improved technology and a growing reliance on telephones and facsimile machines as business tools, it's easy to eavesdrop on important conversations going on in a boardroom or over the phone. Conversations conducted on car phones are notoriously easy to intercept or misdirect. And it's not hard to intercept messages sent by computer modem or fax.
Robin Ingle, president of Worldwide Security & Protection Corp. in Toronto says "if a company has spent five years and hundreds of thousands of dollars researching and developing a new product, its competitor can spend five minutes and $10,000 and get the same product on the market at the same time." simply by stealing information by bugging the company's boardroom.
He says people have been bugging corporate offices in the U.S, for years. But in Canada, information was more likely to have been gleaned from overly talkative employees.
Bousquet says almost all the companies he deals with are publicly traded corporations attempting to make sure that company secrets stay secret.
"It's extremely competitive out there."
He says there are three basic ways to eavesdrop on conversations. In addition to the basic telephone bug, budding eavesdroppers can use a radio frequency (RF) device, which can be purchased for about $30 from a mail-order catalogue or easily made by someone with a basic knowledge of electronics. The other device, similar to a baby monitor, uses all electrical current to transmit conversations conducted in another part of the building.
Counter electronic-surveillance equipment is designed to warn speakers when their conversation is being bugged or taped and to prevent third parties from listening. It can also emit high-frequency background noise to prevent tape recorders from picking up a conversation.
Many products are designed to be worn by executives, such as a device that fits in a suit pocket and starts to vibrate if a tape recorder is being used in the room.
"It's quite popular with people who are afraid of reporters recording their conversations," Bousquet says.
Telephone scramblers convert a telephone conversation into one of 52,000 codes which are unscrambled at the other end of the line. These are particularly useful for airplane and car phones, Bousquet says.
"It's probably one of the best products going because it would take a real trained professional to descramble it."
A similar product is available to scramble sensitive messages sent by fax.
Ingle's company also arranges physical protection, including bodyguards, and self-defence training for executives who may find themselves in physically threatening situations.
The ideal bodyguard is someone who is well-trained and physically fit, but is not noticed in a crowd. Rambo types with mirrored glasses and bulging biceps aren't welcome-- they don't fit in at embassy cocktail parties.
Executives are also taught how not to be a victim.
"We try to teach them simply how to strike and run if they get caught in a situation they can't get out of," Ingle says.
Other tips include how to safely enter a building and how to walk down a street alone at dusk. Executives traveling to foreign countries -- especially ones with turbulent political situations-- should be careful who they're friendly with, avoid mingling with military people and never sit in outdoor cafes, where it's easy for to strafe the crowd.
Also, executives should double-lock their hotel door and bring an inexpensive gadget that can be used to jam doors. For good measure, a device marketed to parents of young children that sets off an alarm when a doorknob is turned can be an effective deterrent to intruders.
"If you add some difficulty to the situation, the criminal element will usually look for an easier target," Ingle says.
Al Guy, president of Continental Security Consultants in Toronto, and a former security adviser to senior executives in the oil-and-gas industry, says executives traveling to politically troubled nations should always contact the Canadian embassy in that country to let staff there know when they'll be arriving and find out what security precautions should be taken.
Common sense is important, too. Don't announce to everyone in the hotel that you're president of a large firm. Avoid drawing attention.
"A lot of high-profile executives show up in Fortune 500 listings," Guy says. "My advice is to avoid that sort of thing. Avoid having your picture taken and avoid being quoted in the media on controversial issues, especially on controversial political issues."