The Duty of Care: Using Threat Intelligence to Prepare for Physical Threats

By Hans Mathias Moeller

This is the first blog in a two-part series from one of our analysts in our Special Investigations Unit that conducts cyber investigations. Today, we provide a high level overview of why businesses need threat intelligence to prepare for physical threats.

In 2014, global business leaders at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland identified violent protests, civil unrest, and collective violence as the most significant risks to governments and businesses. Recent events leading to widespread social unrest around the world show just how much impact such incidents can have. Through applied threat intelligence, however, organizations can get advanced knowledge of threats and successfully prepare for attacks to protect employees, corporate facilities, and supply chains.

The riots that unfolded in Baltimore, MD in May damaged nearly 400 businesses and resulted in 61 burned buildings. The cost to the city of Baltimore was an estimated $20 million. In August, protesters blocked all lanes along Interstate 70 near Ferguson, MO over two days to commemorate the one-year anniversary of the shooting of an unarmed teenager. The protest resulted in approximately 100 arrests and the announcement of a state of emergency in Missouri. At the end of November, Chicago activists protesting a police shooting physically blocked shoppers from entering stores along the Magnificent Mile on Black Friday. Businesses estimate that the reduced foot traffic may have cost stores 25to 50 percent of sales.

The Duty of Care: Why You Need to Prepare for Physical Threats

Beyond the cost of lost sales, businesses have a legal and moral obligation to ensure a safe work environment for their employees. This is known as “The Duty of Care,” and demands that company executives exercise good judgment and use care in the operation of the business. If the duty of care is not demonstrated – a threat exists that was foreseeable and endangers the well-being of employees or business assets, or cause damage to physical assets (buildings and equipment), information (electronics and paper data), and processes (supply chains) – the result could be legal proceedings, reputational damage, and financial losses.


Employees, the most valuable asset in maintaining business activities, are at risk whenever peaceful protests escalate to unrest and clashes erupt between police and protesters. Employees (and customers) are also at risk when activists target offices by blocking entrances, raiding/occupying offices, staging sit-ins in building lobbies, or trying to bypass security guards to enter the office space.

Business Executives

Physical actors often target business executives and board members to try to intimidate them into changing a business policy or a specific decision. Various tactics are used to target business executives, including repeatedly protesting outside of private residences, handing out leaflets to neighbors to cause embarrassment, and interrupting annual shareholder meetings. In the most extreme cases, business executives may experience death threats and physical assaults.

Operational Risks

Physical protests, labor strikes, and social unrest can bring work to a halt by preventing employees, customers, and vendors from accessing stores, office space, and manufacturing plants. Corporate facilities can be damaged from looting and vandalism, which can cause temporary shutdowns and outages. Large-scale physical protests and strikes in nearby areas can cause road and public transportation closures that can impact employees’ commutes.

Supply Chain Disruption

In an interconnected and globalized marketplace, protests, riots, and labor strikes in one part of the world can disrupt links in a business’ supply chain network. Businesses rely on suppliers and transportation vendors to deliver products and goods on time, so supply chain disruptions that keep businesses from delivering services and products to customers on time can lead to reputational risks and economic losses.

Now that we’ve explained why businesses need threat intelligence to prepare for physical threats, we’ll give you the how. Stay tuned for our next blog outlining specific steps for handling physical threats to your organization.

Contact us for more information on deep-dive assessments performed by our Special Investigations Unit.