The elaborate extortion bomb hoax in Sydney is an active reminder that extortion and kidnap for ransom are very real threats.

To recap, a 16 year old girl, Madeline Pulver, was shackled with a collar bomb by an intruder in her North Shore suburbs home in Sydney, Australia. Police are investigating the incident; Ms. Pulver is the daughter of William Pulver, a wealthy businessman who leads an international software company.

Ms. Pulver rang police around 2:30 pm to report that a man wearing a balaclava had fixed a collar bomb to her, left a ransom note and departed. The police finished defusing the device around midnight, having conferred with both Australian Federal Authorities and their contemporaries in the UK.

This threat is real, not only in Australia but globally. Extortion through terror is often dismissed as some form of Latin American phenomenon, but that simply isn’t true. If something can be imagined, it can be actioned, and it takes exceptionally little effort to generate a list of likely targets and then track down their loved ones. In the information age, access to information about family members can be found through Google searching and social media sites such as Facebook. All this can be achieved from the comfort of one’s living room, enabling a would-be extortionist whose motive is pure profit or profit while sending a message to a company or individual that has slighted them to plan extensively before even leaving their home to properly plan and prepare.

Social media is a critical component of today’s society. Unfortunately, just as with its use for cyber-bullying, that access and information isn’t necessarily all for the good. Incidents such as this should act as prompts to remind executives, and us all, to take sensible precautions with what we and our families publish on the Web. The greater a target an executive may be, the higher the risk, and therefore, the more precautions are sensible.

Risk is a factor of not only how valuable the company and the individual employee is, but how accessible they are, potentially the likelihood of effective police response and how credibly a threat can be prevented. The ideal extortion scenario denies the victim and family access to the police, extorts only as much money as is easily available to the target of the extortion, and provides for a very quick turnaround time to prevent accidents and mistakes.

The bomb-extortion incident is being investigated from a number of perspectives, including whether it was an elaborate hoax by the victim. Regardless of whether it was an extortion attempt, the affect on would-be imitators will be the same. Copycats are out there, and this will appear as an easy way to a fast buck – there is absolutely a liklihood we will see some form of extortion attempt following this model soon; the question is whether the attempt will be made public.

Companies should be reviewing the security discipline of their employees, particularly those who may be perceived as wealthy or critical to the company, reminding them of appropriate precautions and measures to reduce the likely exposure to them and their families.

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