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Keeping high-profile meetings safe and secure

Advanced technology makes it easier than ever to compromise security of meetings, but Harlan Calhoun has tips to fight off would-be spies

By Harlan Calhoun, CSO
December 02, 2013 04:06 PM ET

CSO - Before the advent of smartphones, planting covert listening devices was the most popular way to illegally record content from a private meeting. Today, with an estimated 130 million smartphones in use in the United States, every user has the potential to be a covert meeting operative with their own Wi-Fi receiver, camera, audio recorder, keyboard and computer at their disposal.

Maintaining security and privacy for high profile meetings is vital whether it is a shareholder meeting, political fundraiser or internal executive meeting. When off-the-cuff comments made by Mitt Romney at a fundraiser were recorded and posted online, his political campaign took a negative hit. The theft of intellectual property costs American businesses billions each year. Discussions of proprietary information may include customer pricing, R&D and production processes, marketing and advertising strategies, legal issues and salary information. How can corporate and government leaders ensure that their meetings are safe and secure and that proprietary information is not leaked?

As a security and law enforcement professional, I have been responsible for the safety and security of Fortune 500 executives and have seen the positive results of a well-planned meeting. These guidelines can help establish processes and protocols to keep people and information protected.

[Slideshow: Security for off-site meetings]

Pre-planning is critical -- About three months before the meeting, all critical parties (human resources, legal, internal security, external security, local law enforcement and facilities) should meet to begin the planning process and assess the level of risk associated with this meeting. Questions to ask include: how many people are expected, where the meeting is being held (off-site or at corporate headquarters) and what are the parking logistics? Will there be sufficient security personnel assigned to the meeting? What is the training of these officers? Who would have an interest in the content of the meeting? How could this content be utilized?

While corporate locations generally already have significant security controls in place, an important meeting could attract crowds or protesters or the content of the meeting may be such that additional security measures are required. Additionally, off-site meeting locations such as hotels and convention centers demand more advance planning so that each area to be accessed is reviewed and accounted for from a security perspective.

Effective pre-planning also includes social media and news monitoring to assess what topics are prominent in the news and how the individual company may factor in. For example: if it is an energy company, how are their environmental practices interpreted by organizations such as Greenpeace, and what impact might that have? Active social media monitoring of Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and other channels can help intercept and prevent potential flash mob scenarios.

One month before the meeting, a tabletop exercise should be conducted where everyone is tasked with creating potential meeting crisis situations such as a medical emergency, disruptive attendee or water main break.

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