Threats to the Mail System in Times of Conflict

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The recent news of the assassination of General Soleimani of Iran has created much tension and speculation in various security circles.

In light of the conflict with Iran, we here at SoBran have been preparing for how we could be impacted in the US in terms of mail safety. We do not want to contribute to fear mongering; however, we do believe it's prudent to anticipate some form of retaliation from Iran and to prepare for possible mail threats.

While it's unlikely the Iranian army would launch a full-scale assault against the U.S., it is NOT unreasonable to think that militia groups and terrorists organizations that have operated as their proxy in the past, would do so again. These attacks could be of the cyber variety, or physical attacks against U.S. infrastructure, and could target top political and military officials. The mail system is an ideal pathway for these groups to achieve their mission.

How might the mail system be impacted?

  • Mailed bio-hazard materials and/or explosive devices, thereby creating illness, injury or death
  • Cyber-attack into mail tracking systems, thereby creating disruption in service and delays to delivery, as well as compromised identities
  • Physical attack against distribution centers and transportation resources, thereby resulting in damage to facilities, capital and loss of life

Preparedness is critical to security, and we encourage you to take a quick refresher on best practices for mail safety. You can visit the SafeMail Resource Center for all the latest information to help keep your knowledge current. Additionally, you will have access to several articles, posters and tip sheets to assist in keeping your organization secure.

Our mail screening teams remain diligent at all times, and are particularly aware of the need to remain especially so, now. We will continue to monitor the situation and keep our clients as informed as possible should there be new or unusual threat alerts. Should you ever have questions about how best protect your organization, we are just a phone call away.

This month, in lieu of our usual articles on current events impacting mail security, we thought it would be relevant to revisit some of the most prominent stories from over the years which illustrate different forms of mail threats.

While this is a difficult start to the new year, we would like to take a moment to wish all our clients, partners and their families the very best for the coming year. We hope it will be one filled with wonderful experiences, much success and most especially, peace.

No News is Good News?

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2019 has seen fewer reported incidents of mail threats in the news, compared to 2018.  With concerted efforts across government agencies and industry to employ more offsite screening tactics, we are seeing various threats and hoaxes are being found early and are mitigated before they become a full-scale incident and hit the national news.

It is important for us to remember that we should not become complacent just because we are not seeing disastrous situations being reported, but rather, we should continue to remain vigilant and keep the positive trend going!

As we wrap up the year, I thought it would be helpful to provide a roundup of our top five articles which offer the best tips and advice for remaining diligent in your mail screening practice, particularly with the holiday season upon us and a higher volume of mail and packages to be processed.


The #1 Best Practice for Mail Security and Screening


Top 5 Myths in Mailroom Screening and Security


6 Things We Learned from the Recent Ricin and Mail Bomb Attacks


Top 5 Questions to Ask When Looking for an Offsite Mail Screening Facility


Mailroom Threat Quick Reference Guide


As always, SoBran is interested in hearing about your personal experiences and your thoughts on the current state of mail screening best practices. Please feel free to reach out to us anytime at smartin@sobran-inc.com to share your opinion or make suggestions for future topics!

Mailroom Threat Quick Reference Guide

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U.S. Postal Service is expecting to deliver 800 million packages this holiday season. UPS says they are expecting to deliver around 32 million packages and documents a day.

Be prepared for the holiday rush - specifically all the packages delivered to your building for employees.

Increased volume requires more resources to screen for chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear or explosive (CBRNE) threats. Mail threats are a low-cost, accessible form of terrorism. Ensure your organization is ready for this influx in order to safeguard your assets, your employees and your organization's reputation.

Here is information on who to immediately contact when a possible threat is identified.

Quick Reference for Mail Threats:

For Radiological Threats
Limit exposure - don’t handle
Distance (evacuate area)
Shield yourself from object
Call Police
Call local Fire Department-HAZMAT Unit
Contact Postal Inspectors at 1-877-876-2455 and state “Emergency”

For Biological or Chemical Threats
Isolate - don’t handle
Wash your hands with soap and warm water
Call Police
Call local Fire Department-HAZMAT Unit
Contact Postal Inspectors at 1-877-876-2455 and state “Emergency”

For a Mail or Parcel Bomb
Evacuate immediately
Call Police
Call local Fire Department- HAZMAT Unit
Contact Postal Inspectors at 1-877-876-2455 and state “Emergency”

Basic steps for Mailroom Safety include:

(1.) Provide mailroom security training
(2.) Put a plan in writing
(3.) Install correct sensor equipment
(4.) Train employees
(5.) Run practice drills

If this is not possible, consider outsourcing mail screening to a third party or sending mail to a third party screening facility.

If you need help determining your best course of action, let us know. We’re here to help.

As always, I appreciate your comments. smartin@sobran-inc.com

Top Indicators of Dangerous Mail

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If a dangerous package landed on your desk, how would you know?

If you don’t know the indicators for potentially threatening mail, you may be putting yourself and your organization at risk.  

“There are no guarantees that even the best mail screening technologies and procedures will identify all potential threats before a letter or package arrives at the desk of the intended recipient.  Therefore, all employees, not just mail center personnel, should be trained to recognize suspicious mail and packages….”   -- U.S. Department of Homeland Security 

Visual inspection can be your first line of defense. Do you know what to look for? 
 
First and foremost, follow your instincts. If you are concerned about a package, don’t open it.

Otherwise, below is a helpful list with some of the top signs that a piece of mail or a package is potentially threatening.

The Top 14 Indicators of Dangerous Mail Include:

(1.) Excessive postage
(2.) Postmarks that do not match return addresses
(3.) Misspelled common words
(4.) No return address or strange return address
(5.) Unusual addressing, such as not being addressed to a specific person or (6.) the use of incorrect titles or titles with no name
(7.) Restrictive markings, such as “personal,” “confidential,” or “do not x-ray”
(8.) Badly typed or written
(9.) Powdery substances felt through or appearing on the item
(10.) Oily stains or discolorations on the exterior
(11.) Strange odor
(12.) Excessive packaging material, like tape or string
(13.) Lopsided, bulky shape or unusually heavy envelopes or boxes
(14.) Ticking sounds, protruding wires, exposed aluminum foil

Remember, always contact the proper authorities if you suspect a mail security threat.

Click Here to get the free poster showing the Signs of Potentially Dangerous Mail.

Basic steps for Mailroom Safety include:

  • Put a plan in writing
  • Install the correct sensor equipment
  • Train employees
  • Run practice drills

If this is not possible, consider outsourcing mail screening to a third party or sending mail to a third party screening facility. Click here to learn more about SoBran’s offsite screening services.

As always, I appreciate your comments. smartin@sobran-inc.com

5 Questions to Ask for Offsite Mail Screening

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Last month we looked at whether Offsite Mail Screening was right for your business.   If it is, do you know how to identify an outside facility provider to meet your company's unique needs?

Offsite Mail Screening is a mail screening and distribution service performed by a 3rd party in a separate location to manage organizational mail security and processing.

An offsite, confidential screening location can mitigate the possible threats of exposure to personnel and visitors - as well as facility closures. 

Screening mail offsite is a best practice utilized to keep organizations safe from Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear and Explosive (CBRNE) mail and package delivery threats such as mail bombs, ricin letters and even white powder hoaxes.

Offsite Mail Screening's Popularity

As reported in this year’s 2019 SafeMail Mail Security Survey, Offsite Mail Screening is an excellent security solution that more organizations are choosing.

If you have determined Offsite Mail Screening is right for your organization, you might be wondering how to find the right company to provide this service.    

Top 5 Questions to Ask When Looking for an Offsite Mail Screening Facility

(1.) Exactly what threats can be detected? You should expect the full spectrum of threat screening – chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear and explosives (CBRNE).

You should also have the ability to customize screening for your organization.

(2.) Is the facility set up well? Look for a dedicated cleanroom environment and details on how your mail will be isolated from other customers’ mail.

(3.) How knowledgeable is the staff? Look for dedicated program management and a well-trained, experienced team. Mail screening is both art and science, so experience counts.

(4.) When can mail delivery be expected? The facility should be able to provide door-to-door service and customize the schedule to meet your needs.

(5.) Can this screening be accomplished with discretion and compliance? Confirm your organization’s reputation will be respected and understand the procedures that will be followed when a threat is detected.

No matter what your organization currently does for mail safety, ensuring basic steps to safety can be a first step to protect your staff and your facilities.

Basic steps for Mailroom Safety include:

  • Put a plan in writing
  • Install the correct sensor equipment
  • Train employees
  • Run practice drills

If this is not possible, consider outsourcing mail screening to a third party or sending mail to a third party screening facility. Click here to learn more about SoBran’s offsite screening services.


As always, I appreciate your comments. smartin@sobran-inc.com

Is Offsite Mail Screening Needed for Your Organization?

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What is Offsite Mail Screening?

Offsite Mail Screening is a mail screening and distribution service performed by a 3rd party in a separate location to manage organizational mail security and processing.

An offsite, confidential screening location can minimize the possibility of threat exposure to personnel and visitors and facility closures. Airtight shelters detect threats before they are delivered to your organization.

Screening mail offsite is a best practice utilized to keep organizations safe from Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear and Explosive (CBRNE) mail and package delivery threats such as mail bombs, ricin letters and even white powder hoaxes.

Trends in Offsite Mail Screening

As reported in this year’s 2019 SafeMail Mail Security Survey, Offsite Mail Screening is on the rise.

The latest trends we surveyed indicate the risky practice of screening mail in the same building in which most employees work has dropped from 60% in 2018 to 43% in 2019.

This is testament to the fact that Offsite Mail Screening can be your organization's best insurance for business continuity.

You might be considering this step for your business. But what is the best way to determine if Offsite Mail Screening is right for your organization?

5 Questions to ask to determine if Offsite Mail Screening is right for your organization:

(1.) Does the mailroom share a ventilation system with other departments, such as accounting, support or sales?

(2.) Is your organization’s mail screening area shared space with another organization? Is it in a building with multiple tenants?

(3.) Does your organization lack the specialty equipment needed to detect chemical, biological and radiological threats?

(4.) If your organization purchases specialty equipment, will space for the additional staff and equipment be a challenge?

(5.) Is your organization too short-staffed or over-worked to keep up on the latest threats, latest training and cutting-edge equipment?

If you answered “yes” to two or more of these questions, Offsite Mail Screening may be the best option to keep your facilities operating and your employees safe.

Basic steps for Mailroom Safety include:

  • Put a plan in writing
  • Install the correct sensor equipment
  • Train employees
  • Run practice drills

If this is not possible, consider outsourcing mail screening to a third party or sending mail to a third party screening facility. Click here to learn more about SoBran’s offsite screening services.


As always, I appreciate your comments. smartin@sobran-inc.com

Lone Wolf Terror: The Continuing Mailroom Threat

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The Continuing Threat from Lone-Wolf Terrorists in America - In Homeland Security

In their article last month, In Homeland Security spotlighted the ongoing threat from Lone Wolf individuals, specifically sighting Cesar Sayoc who was, “…arrested in Plantation, Florida, for allegedly mailing more than a dozen homemade parcel bombs to liberal politicians and media affiliates, including CNN.”

Who Are Lone Wolf Terrorists?

“Domestic terrorists in the U.S. are usually loners who are often frustrated with their personal and professional lives. They are usually unmarried and often align with an extremist organization that they feel will understand and nurture their rage – a group that gives them a sense of belonging that they have never felt.” -- In Homeland Security

Despite this, the fact is that we don't really know who lone wolf terrorists are or will be.

We do know they often they suffer from mental illness. While they may identify with a larger terror group. they act on their own with no contact or direction from a group of any size. Lone wolves often act on beliefs or philosophies that guide known terrorist groups, but despite where their inspiration comes from, their plots are self-directed.

Examples of lone wolf attacks range from the classic Unabomber to the ricin-laced letters sent to President Obama. And while many of the widely reported on mailroom lone wolf attacks involve explosives, there are just as many chemical and biological threats.

Even hoax-threats by lone wolfs are costly to your organization causing stress for evacuated workers, continuity disruption and harm to organizational reputation in the news.

Why is this important?

Because social media monitoring is often seen as an infringement on individual rights, forewarning is limited, and organizations can be taken by surprise. Furthermore, the often classic solitary character of lone wolves hinders early detection.

Widespread use of social media and general online communication has facilitated either inspiring or educating a lone wolf in the best tactics to carry out harm.

Complacency could be costly for your organization. For the price of a stamp - the mailroom is an open door to possible lone wolf threats. It is important to take these threats into consideration for your organizations full security plan.

How do we protect our organization?

By nature, lone wolf terrorism is hard to predict. Therefore, organization’s must employ all the latest protections to mitigate all possible avenues for these types of possible threats to business continuity.

Preventing attacks by employing advanced detection devices is critical. X-ray screening is not sufficient to detect all threats, and is primarily used to detect explosives.

Additional training and specialized equipment is needed to detect targeted chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear threats.

Basic steps for Mailroom Safety include:

  • Put a plan in writing
  • Install correct sensor equipment
  • Train employees
  • Run practice drills

If this is not possible, consider outsourcing mail screening to a third party or sending mail to a third party screening facility.

As always, I appreciate your comments. smartin@sobran-inc.com

Hate Crimes – The Danger to Your Organization’s Mail

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"The NYPD recorded 184 hate crimes through June 2 — up from 112 in 2018 — during a period when the city experienced a continued reduction in overall crimes." -- New York Times

What is a Hate Crime?

The FBI defines a hate crime as a “crime in which the perpetrators acted based on a bias against the victim’s race, color, religion, or national origin.” They also include “crimes committed against those based on biases of actual or perceived sexual orientation, gender identity, disability, or gender.”

These types of crime can play out as “a traditional offense like murder, arson, or vandalism with an added element of bias." But the crime can also be in the form of mail - a package or a letter.

Last October, the FBI released hate crime statistics from 2017 reporting they rose more than 17% led by increases in minority and religious attacks.

"It is the biggest annual increase in reported hate crimes since 2001, when attacks on Muslims surged in response to the Sept. 11 attacks, and the third straight year that hate crimes have gone up." - LA Times

What Does This Mean for My Organization?

Targeting an individual or a well known organization, or targeting non-profit’s mission or an organization’s goals is a real and current danger.

Whether the hate crime is committed by a group or by a lone wolf, the incidents overall are rising.

What is the danger?

There is always the possibility of dangerous mailed hate crimes containing chemical threats, biological threats, radiological, nuclear and mail bomb threats. However, even 'simple' threatening letters can be illegal.

Organizations can easily be targeted for their beliefs or for the causes they champion. These can be political, religious or social. In the past year, religion has been a large target for all manner of hate crimes including dangerous and deadly mail attacks.

The motivation for the hate crime is sometimes only based on a company having a well-known brand where the hate would make its biggest impact for notoriety.

These hateful and disturbed individuals and organizations are always looking to find ways to make their message known, while often the groups would like to also grow their membership.

What is the difference between Threatening Letters and Hate Mail?

Threatening Letter: According the United States Postal Inspection Service (USPIS), it is a letter “threatening a person's reputation, blackmail or extortion through the mail.” This is considered a federal crime.

Hate Mail: This is a letter containing usually negative, hostile and hurtful language targeting a person or group based on a bias. If the letter does not contain certain threats, then sometimes it is not considered a crime.

Religious Hate Crimes are Making Headlines

Religious Freedom Report Offers Grim Review Of Attacks On Faith Groups - NPR

While many types of hate are causing threats, religious oriented hate crimes are a troubling trend for all beliefs and religious organizations.

"Hate crimes surge in NYC, attacks on Jews almost double" - NYT

What should we look for?

Again, for hate crimes the full spectrum of all possible mail threats should be mitigated. All causes for question or suspicion must be taken seriously.

Any of these items or a combination can indicate a dangerous package:
• Excessive postage
• Sealed with extra tape and material
• Restrictive markings like “Personal” or “Private”
• Lack of return address
• Lopsided or uneven package
• Strange odors, stains or leakage
• Badly typed or written addressing
• Misspelled words
• Return address from foreign country or does not match postmarking

Click here for the Poster "Signs of Dangerous Mail"

Basic steps for Mailroom Safety include:

Put a plan in writing
Install correct sensor equipment
Train employees
Run practice drills

If this is not possible, consider outsourcing mail screening to a third party or sending mail to a third party screening facility.


As always, I appreciate your comments. smartin@sobran-inc.com

MAIL: Symbol of Trust – Tool of Terror

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Mail threats are so common today they don’t make the news unless they reach a high-profile target. If you wait to screen until mail terrorism threatens your company, it’s too late.”   - Amos-Leon’ Otis, SoBran Founder and CEO

To assess how organizations are protecting themselves from mail terrorism, SoBran, Inc. conducts an annual survey of security and mailroom professionals. Click here to view the new 2019 Survey Infographic.

Why Is This Important ?

Anyone can be a target.  Up from last year, at least 34% of companies say they received threats in the mail.  These threats can occur at any time, for any type of organization.  They may come from terrorist actions, homegrown extremists, or individuals with a grievance against a particular company

Mail screening is an essential part of an overall security plan that includes physical security and cyber security strategies to protect an organization’s staff, assets and reputation.

Understanding how organizations included in this survey address mail security challenges can help security professionals, facilities managers, mailroom staff, and business leaders shape their own risk management practices.

How Worried Should We Be?

Each year, the FBI and US Postal Service receive thousands of reports of hazardous or threatening mail. High profile or controversial organizations are not the only ones targeted by mail terrorism.

Unfortunately, half of companies surveyed don't screen incoming mail at all.  Those that screen typically stop at visual inspection (66%) or X-ray (73%) leaving themselves vulnerable to threats including biological or chemical.

“This anonymity is the beating heart of mail crime, opening the door for anyone with enough motive to commit criminal acts at arm’s length from the law.”

“.....It remains both a symbol of trust and a tool of terror...”The Atlantic

 

What are the Main Roadblocks to Mail Security?

When asked to name their biggest challenge,  survey respondents indicated equipment (34%) and budget (45%) were the main issues they must constantly address for mail security and the proper screening equipment.

As the results of this survey indicate, even organizations that are aware of the threat of mail terrorism and have taken steps to address it, have gaps in their security strategies which could leave them exposed to an attack

Where Can We Improve?

The risky practice of screening mail in the same building in which most employees work has dropped from 60% in 2018 to 43% in 2019. Offsite Mail Screening is a mail security "Best Practice."  keeps employees safer and reduces risk of productivity downtime as the result of a threat or hoax.

It is imperative for organizations that handle mail screening themselves to increase the knowledge of mailroom staff and any employees who handle incoming mail.

Providing specialized training on equipment for advanced screening to a small team of employees enables them to prevent the most dangerous threats from spreading within your organization. Their training should be refreshed as risk factors change and as new employees enter the organization. It is also critical to continually train staff on the latest threats and screening techniques.

Basic steps to Mail Safety Include:

1. Put a plan in writing
2. Install correct equipment
3. Train employees
4. Run practice drills

If this is not possible, consider outsourcing mail screening to a third party or sending mail to a third party screening facility.

Every day, threatening letters and parcels land at corporate and government offices. Most are inconvenient. Some cause damage. A few change everything. As long as terrorists have low cost and easy access to mail, all organizations must consider comprehensive mail screening an essential part of a security program.

For more information on mail security best practices, SoBran can help.

All this information, and much more is included in the complete survey brief: “Symbol of Trust - Tool of Terror: Lessons Learned from the 2019 SoBran Mail Security Survey."

The #1 Best Practice for Mail Security

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As stated by the Department of Homeland Security --

“The first and best practice to minimize risk and exposure to personnel and the public is centralizing the mail handling/processing operation at a separate location.”

Here's why:

• Centralization minimizes risk, reduces cost, and increases efficiency and effectiveness.
• It lessens risk by limiting exposure to one location and fewer personnel.
• It reduces cost by eliminating the redundancy of multiple mail centers, personnel, and equipment.
• Utilization of a trained staff working together at one location increases efficiency.
• Deploying better equipment at one location that greatly enhances risk reduction improves effectiveness.

 

Is your business at risk? Check into how Offsite Screening could be the answer.

Basic steps for Mailroom Safety include:

1. Put a plan in writing
2. Install correct sensor equipment
3. Train employees
4. Run practice drills

If this is not possible, consider outsourcing mail screening to a third party or sending mail to a third party screening facility.

As always, I appreciate your comments. smartin@sobran-inc.com