The Evolution of Corporate Security: Past, Present, and Future

The Evolution of Corporate Security: Past, Present, and Future
6 minute read

Welcome to part one of a three-part series on the evolution of corporate security from the cybersecurity experts at ZeroFox. Throughout the series, you'll learn how corporate security has evolved over the decades to better understand the importance of a unified approach to digital and physical security.

Corporate Security is Evolving

In the annals of corporate history, security has always been a priority. From the early days of industrialization to the technologically-sophisticated present, the evolution of corporate security has been a journey marked by adaptation and innovation. Emerging trends and an expanding attack surface have reshaped its landscape, now encompassing a more comprehensive set of security responsibilities across both the digital and physical realms, driving the need for intelligence-driven, unified protection that alleviates manual complexity and augments security teams’ abilities.

The Origins of Corporate Security

As industrialization swept across nations in the late 19th century, businesses experienced unprecedented growth and expansion. With this expansion came the need to safeguard various assets critical to their operations, such as raw materials, finished goods, machinery, and equipment housed within warehouses and factories. In fact, these assets represented such substantial investments for businesses, America’s oldest detective agency, Pinkerton’s National Detective Agency, emerged to combat these challenges in 1850. Hired by various businesses across the United States during this period of rapid industrial growth, Pinkerton helped protect businesses’ critical assets from theft, vandalism, and sabotage to maintain their operability and profitability.

However, businesses in the late 19th century were not just concerned with physical assets within their premises, but also with safeguarding proprietary knowledge and intellectual property. Industrial espionage was a prevalent threat, with competitors seeking to gain access to trade secrets, manufacturing techniques, and product designs. Therefore, businesses invested in measures to secure their intellectual capital, including restricting access to sensitive areas, implementing confidentiality agreements, and monitoring employee activities.

As businesses expanded and diversified their operations, the scope of security challenges grew exponentially. In addition to protecting physical assets and intellectual property, businesses also faced risks associated with transportation and logistics. Shipping routes and cargo trains were vulnerable to robbery, piracy, and sabotage, posing significant risks to goods in transit.

In response to these evolving security challenges, businesses began to implement rudimentary security measures focused on physical protection. Security personnel were employed to guard warehouses, factories, and transportation routes, providing a visible deterrent to potential threats. Businesses also invested in fortified infrastructure, such as reinforced doors, locks, and security lighting, to enhance perimeter security and deter unauthorized access.

Corporate Security in the 20th Century

The 20th century marked a transformative period in corporate security, spurred by technological advancements, global interconnectedness, and the introduction of a new term: cyber threats. The term gained prominence in the late 20th century,  alongside the increasing recognition of cybersecurity risks posed by malicious actors exploiting vulnerabilities in computer networks and systems.

The "Morris Worm," created by Robert Tappan Morris in 1988, is the first documented cyberattack. Initially, the worm was intended to gauge the size of the internet by exploiting vulnerabilities in UNIX systems; however, it ended up causing widespread disruption, infecting thousands of computers. This incident marked a pivotal moment in cybersecurity history, revealing the vulnerabilities of networked computer systems and giving rise to malicious exploitation like hacking and malware.

As businesses grappled the challenges of data digitization and new vulnerabilities, sophisticated security frameworks emerged to counter diverse threats, with a focus on information security, and robust protocols like encryption and intrusion detection systems were implemented to safeguard data integrity.

Fraud prevention became crucial as businesses expanded globally, combating financial fraud and insider trading through internal controls and forensic techniques. Risk management gained prominence, addressing geopolitical instability and compliance issues through structured methodologies like enterprise risk management. Specialized security professionals like Chief Security Officers (CSOs) oversaw the implementation of these frameworks, developing tailored security strategies aligned with business objectives. CSOs collaborated with executive leadership to promote a culture of security awareness and accountability throughout organizations.

Today's Corporate Security Landscape

Fast forward to today, the convergence of technology, social media, and remote work models has redefined the scope of corporate security, giving rise to intelligence-driven approaches that unify digital and physical protection. This paradigm shift reflects the growing realization that threats to organizational security are no longer confined to physical breaches, but also encompass sophisticated cyberattacks targeting employees as a primary attack vector.

On the digital security front, 81% of organizations are experiencing cyberattacks targeting employees – ranging from phishing attacks and malware infections to business email compromises (BECs)– as reported by Verizon. These attacks leverage social engineering tactics to exploit human vulnerabilities, bypassing traditional security measures and infiltrating corporate networks with potentially devastating consequences– for both the employee and organization.

On the physical security front, businesses are facing an alarming surge in threats, with 88% of organizations reporting an increase in physical security incidents compared to two years ago, with a reported 23% of executives reporting threats not only to themselves, but also to their family members.

If there’s anything these statistics reveal, it’s that unifying cybersecurity and physical security is no longer a choice, but an organizational necessity to maintain a holistic view of threats to business operations, physical and digital assets, and personnel. 

The good news is, organizations are increasingly recognizing that investing in intelligence-driven cybersecurity to enhance their physical security is the first step in a unified strategy. By proactively monitoring digital indicators, businesses can detect and respond to physical security incidents in real-time, minimizing the impact on both individuals and the organization as a whole.

Benefits of Integrating Cybersecurity into Physical Security

  • Save Money: Facilitating communication between physical security teams and information security teams can yield significant cost savings. By identifying instances where one team already has effective controls in place, redundant investments in additional controls can be avoided. Moreover, collaborative efforts between these groups can help anticipate and mitigate unforeseen expenses associated with new security projects.
  • Enhance Incident Response: Effective incident response hinges on seamless collaboration between physical security and cybersecurity teams. By aligning their efforts, organizations can achieve streamlined alerting systems and expedited response times, leading to more efficient resolution of security incidents.
  • Mitigate Risks: Sharing cyber threat data across teams enables proactive risk management from a physical security perspective, and vice versa. This exchange of information empowers organizations to implement targeted measures to mitigate risks comprehensively.
  • Build Holistic Resilience: Cybersecurity initiatives play a pivotal role in shaping the framework for physical security measures. Cybersecurity measures adopted by organizations inform the creation of appropriate physical security protocols, while recognizing the inherent limitations of cybersecurity systems helps underscore the importance of maintaining robust physical security protocol to complement and bolster the overall security posture.

The Future of Corporate Security

Looking ahead, the convergence of cyber and physical security risks underscores the urgency for seamless collaboration and technology between security stakeholders. CSOs must maintain intentional partnerships with their cyber counterparts to mitigate the impact of attacks to their organizations effectively. Additionally, investments in digital security tools and strategies are paramount to enhancing organizational resilience in the face of evolving threats.

As the security landscape continues to evolve, organizations must remain agile and proactive in adopting intelligence-informed approaches to corporate security risk management. By embracing emerging trends and fostering cross-functional collaboration, businesses can fortify their defenses and secure a resilient future in an ever-changing world.

Look out for part two in this series, Safeguarding Executives: A Unified Approach to Digital and Physical Security Challenges, coming soon.

Tags: Digital Risk ProtectionExternal CybersecurityPhysical Security Intelligence

See ZeroFox in action