High net worth individuals face some quite specific risks. Their status and profile mean that they and their families are more likely to be targeted by cyber criminals, harassed on social media or targeted for theft from their homes.

What exactly are the risks and what can be done to reduce them?

Cyber crime

Not only is it intuitively the case but there is evidence that the very wealthy are being targeted by cyber criminals. The motives of cyber criminals, in general, can be quite broad and include causing disruption to make political statements, anarchistic behaviour, taking control of data for financial and other gain and directly targeting individuals through scams for financial advantage. While any one of these motives could be behind a cyber attack against a high worth individual the latter, direct targeting to fraudulently make a financial gain, is likely to be the principal reason for attacks against the wealthy.

There is no single way that cyber criminals gain access to the data and finances of the wealthy. A wide range of methods are used and the methods change quickly both in line with technology and the ingeniousness of the IT experts who carry out the attacks.  While something of a generalisation it is fair to say, however, that a significant number of attacks are made with the help of social media and networking sites to gain information about the status, habits and behaviour of wealthy individuals. There is also evidence that high net worth individuals are targeted by hacking into their email accounts to gain information and posing as a trusted contact or as the owner of the email account to carry out scams in some cases involving several million pounds.

Social media

Social media sites used by high net worth individuals, their family and even friends are valuable sources of information for cyber criminals.

Social media sites require some personal information and encourage the exchange of a lot more.    For example, status updates posted on Twitter, Facebook and many other social media sites can tell a lot about the user. The use of photo and video-sharing sites like Flickr and YouTube provide insights into a person, their family and friends, their home, habits and routines. The information provided on social media sites – name, birthday, place of birth, relationship status, schools and universities attended, graduation dates and educational achievements, employer details, pet names and so on build a profile.

This information can be used to underpin a cyber attack and to plan other criminal activities against the wealthy, including stalking and harassment, burglary and, in extremis, kidnap.


High net worth individuals are obviously the prime target of criminals carrying out old fashioned house breaking. These days, the planning for such activities might be more sophisticated than in the past but the two prime factors are unchanged: motive (property worth stealing); and opportunity (weak or absent security controls). Put simply, wealthy individuals are more attractive targets and therefore need higher levels of security.

So. What can be done to address these risks?

To reduce the risks of cyber attack:

The risk of cyber attack can be reduced quite significantly by tightening up the way sensitive information is stored and transmitted.

  • Install reputable anti-virus and anti-malware software.
  • Encrypt sensitive or valuable data
  • Be smart in your use of passwords. Don’t use simple or predictable passwords.
  • Keep operating systems up to date and allow patches (a piece of software designed to update a computer program or its supporting data, to fix or improve it. This includes addressing security vulnerabilities).
  • Adopt and maintain good operating habits. Don’t leave sensitive information, laptops, mobile phones or other IT items lying around. Don’t use the same password to protect multiple sites or data bases. Don’t provide information to anyone who is not known and trusted.

To reduce social media risks:

  • Consider unique user names and passwords for each profile.
  • Vary your passwords and change them regularly.
  • Don’t give out your username and password to third parties (even if it helps you connect to others and build your network).
  • Assuming you plan to be active in social media, minimize the use of personal information on your profiles that may be used for password verification or phishing attacks. Don’t make available your date or place of birth, home address or primary e-mail address. If you advertise the name of your pet or other information don’t use that information in passwords or password reminders.
  • Review your privacy settings and make sure you are comfortable with them. It is worth noting that privacy settings are sometimes changed by social media websites so it is worth keeping an eye on them.
  • Only invite people to your network that you know or have met.
  • For password security verification questions, use a password for all answers (rather than the answer to the specific question, like “What is your mother’s maiden name?”).
  • Consider using a VPN (virtual private network) but remember that this measure is only of benefit if you have appropriate privacy settings and put in place the other measures we have outlined to guard your information and note also that a VPN will not protect you from malware.

To reduce the risks of theft, particularly resulting from house breaking:

  • Adopt and maintain sensible habits like locking doors and windows and activating alarms when a property is vacant.
  • Consider upgrading perimeter fences, gates, doors, windows and locks to make them security rated rather than simply looking the part.
  • Consider using a reliable third party company to respond to alarms and set meaningful response times and operational procedures. The police do not have the resources to respond quickly to burglar alarms.
  • Install additional security measures, such as safes and item specific alarms, to safeguard particularly valuable items.
  • Ensure that any domestic staff or others with privileged access to your property have had their background checked to ensure their identity and integrity.