By Bryan Parent, Senior Protective Intelligence Analyst, LinkedIn
High-profile corporate executives like Oprah Winfrey or Elon Musk gain public attention for their every movement, decision, or statement, with the latest news often being shared broadly by the internet. For as much good as the interconnected world of the internet provides, it’s also unfortunately a place where bad actors can stoke their obsession, alone or with like-minded individuals, and threaten real-world harm to these well-known people. To combat these incidents, a new specialty in the executive protection and security industry was created: cybersecurity protective intelligence. Professionals serving in this new role seek to identify those who desire to inflict a physical, mental, or reputational harm against a highly visible individual–our protectee or principal–online.
Cybersecurity protective intelligence is my passion and job at LinkedIn, but my path into cybersecurity was far from typical. I began my career conducting military intelligence operations with the U.S. Army, but an injury forced my early separation from service. Having lost my connection to my teammates, I struggled to transition to the civilian world and didn’t think I’d be able to contribute in the same way I did while in the military. With tremendous support from friends and family, I went back to school, received an advanced degree in homeland security, and soon after began working at a social media company. I built a rapid response intelligence team for the global security operations center (GSOC), including collaborating with the executive protection team to identify online threats against our high-profile executives. Threats were coming in on social media platforms, email, and even text messages; it felt so foreign to a guy who had focused on in-person interviews for the previous 10 years. However, I quickly realized how connected human intelligence and cybersecurity are and have successfully built this nexus as my specialization.
Fast forward to March 2019 when I had the opportunity to join LinkedIn’s Executive Protection and Trust & Safety teams. The combination of these teams showed me the promise of bringing these two fields together, and I’ve been working to build a threat assessment program here over the last year-plus.
Since this is a relatively new position, there isn’t a set entry path to join the field or a well-known roles and responsibilities list for the job. For example, one day you might be reviewing an eager fan’s social media posts, the next you’re reviewing a dark web forum looking for the latest password leaks.
However, I’ve found that many of the existing categories of the NICE Framework are key parts of my role, including Analyze, Collect and Operate, and Investigate. As an example of how “Analyze” shows up in my day-to-day, once I identify a “bad actor,” I conduct an assessment on the capability and opportunity – in other words, the credibility – of the bad actor following through on their threats. These assessments help leadership make decisions on what security measures to put into place. As I’ve been building my skill set, I’ve also explored the Protect and Defend work category. While it may seem daunting at first to work across so many elements of the Framework, the challenge it brings to my everyday work is the part I enjoy the most.
In addition to the cybersecurity element of this position, it’s also important to know about things like open-source intelligence investigation techniques and the psychology of workplace violence, harassment, and stalking. For more information about these areas, organizations like the Association of International Risk Intelligence Professionals, the International Association of Crime Analysts, and the Association of Threat Assessment Professionals all have certification programs that new analysts can follow to become experts.
Whatever your background, success as a protective intelligence analyst starts with always being curious and willing to learn more. I’ve seen individuals with no formal intelligence analysis or cybersecurity background succeed in this field by leveraging their natural curiosity and tenacity. If you are someone interested in this area of work, be ready to continuously learn new skills and evolve your methods to meet new challenges. You are protecting people, reputations, and companies, and ensuring the internet can be a healthy and safe resource for all.