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Industry Focus

Small World, Big Ideas

Partners in International Crime Fighting Cook up Collaborative Approaches to Risk

For those of you who follow the news agenda, it would appear that a lethal cocktail of climate change, COVID-19, and the cost-of-living crisis have seemingly reheated the last supper for the dream of globalisation as nationalist narratives have narrowed international horizons to the point where diplomacy has made way for finger pointing and full-throttle fighting in Europe for the first time this century.

Ostensibly, the world appears to be shrinking in terms of scope of vision and bigger picture thinking. While COVID-19 physically cut us all off in terms of closed borders and international travel bans, Brexit, the UK’s departure from the EU, has created an existential crisis for a European Union that was established in the post-war years to bring people and nations together to prevent future conflict through trade and security sharing.

However, by narrowing opportunities for co-operation and collaboration, it has emasculated efforts to tackle international challenges such as the migration crisis and the growing threats of global cyber-crime. One example of this would be Brexit’s severance from international treaties such as membership of Europol and ENISA (the European Union Agency for Cybersecurity), a pan-European body for fighting digital fraud—an omni-present crime that ironically does not recognise the integrity of international borders.

To use a food analogy, critics of the Brexit referendum saw a weakening of a relationship where nations are stronger together, and what should have been the feast for all has become a microwave meal for one. Conversely, pro-Brexit critics would argue that globalisation and inter-dependence and trust has been over-egged and have added to our current woes. Separately, environmentalists would argue that longer and increasingly complex supply chains are only as strong as their weakest links, and greater food miles create a larger carbon footprint, so should we not be reducing what many already see as national over-reach and do more locally? Many argue that today’s international tensions are the legacy of over-caring and over-sharing with international neighbours, but redrawing boundaries can never be a substitute for building bridges of trust, and it is too late in the day to try to disconnect from what is already a highly connected world.

In a world where we have too much on our individual plates, there has never been a more critical time for collaboration, diplomacy, and international co-operation, and while Governments may be redrawing borders, corporations must remain open for business and dare to share ideas and creativity, particularly in the pursuit of physical and digital security.

According to a combination of global cyber-security reports, the world of international business has been on the receiving end of its own crime pandemic, and one of “epic proportions.”

In one prominent example, Mimecast’s sixth annual State of Email Security report makes clear that businesses around the world have continued to find themselves in the crosshairs of a torrent of new cyber-attacks. In 2021 it said, “the cyber-threat landscape in country after country became more treacherous, not less.”

In its survey, the communication expert said 2021 was the worst year on record for cyber-security, as illuminated by the 1,400 global IT decision makers polled. The findings showed that while nine out of ten global businesses had been subject to phishing attempts, ransomware impacted three out of four major brands.

Reports are one thing, but bringing those risks to life in a way that captures the gravitas of the situation as well as their collective imaginations is another, and those very corporations are continually challenged to arrive at communications solutions that are most likely to culturally engage their employees and provide food for thought.

Recipes for Averting Disaster

Continuing the food theme, it is fair to say that like many dishes, today’s cyber-risk starts with an onion. In technical language, The Onion Router (TOR) is the free to use, open-source software that allows anonymous communication and is often referred to as the gateway to the so-called “dark web,” the weapon of choice for the shadowy criminal underworld where cyber-fraudsters seek cover.

The strong presence of the onion therefore needs to be muted with other ingredients, and in the spirit of sharing the culinary delights of fighting cyber-crime, one global telecommunication business has created a resource for its international partners that combines home-grown employee recipes with helpful tips to remain safe online and protect the corporation’s digital infrastructure as well as its international reputation.

Deutsche Telekom DT, one of the world’s leading integrated telecommunications companies with some 248 million mobile customers, 26 million fixed-network lines, and 22 million broadband lines has created an international ambassador programme to bring together employees from across the globe to share ideas and best practice around its asset protection strategies, both physical and digital.

Headquartered in Bonn, Germany, and employing 216,000 employees across the world, Deutsche Telekom’s programme includes initiatives that deliver the risk message in innovative ways such as Cyber Kitchen—The Cyber-Security Hacker Cookbook, designed to bring IT and food hacking together and explain complex issues in easy-to-relate ways.

The business recognises Cyber Kitchen as more than just a nice-to-have cookbook. In addition to sixty “hacked” recipes, its pages contain many tips and assistance in the form of “life hacks,” both for the kitchen and security in everyday digital life. All the recipes in Cyber Kitchen came from Telekom’s security awareness team before they were refined by German TV chef Stefan Wiertz in the final course. With clever name games such as “Phishing Potpourri,” “Ransom Roll,” or “Blacklist Pizza,” Cyber Kitchen was designed to whet the appetite for the world of security and combine the world of cyber-hacking with the art of kitchen “hacking,” the ability to prepare dishes in a faster and more efficient way—food for thought, indeed.

The leadership team of Telekom Security provided the framework as thematic chapter ambassadors for topics such as phishing, viruses, and trojans and social engineering. Enriched with modern recipes, Cyber Kitchen conveys in a particularly engaging way how employees can play a role in protecting themselves simply and yet securely in many everyday digital situations.

The rationale for the cookbook was simple—with increasing engagement through social media and millions of financial transactions taking place every day, digitalisation is changing our world. “But this can only function if computers and networks work securely. With our activities we make sure that our people, as the last line of defence, stay secure,” according to the Cyber Kitchen publicity material.

“At the same time, the number of cyber-attacks on business, politics, and private individuals is steadily increasing worldwide. We at Telekom would like to fulfil our digital responsibility in this regard and make a completely different kind of awareness contribution with Cyber Kitchen. We want to raise awareness of the dangers on the Internet, which are still underestimated because cyber-security potentially affects all of us. That’s why we want to reach not only technically interested people, but as many people as possible. Everyone can protect themselves with simple means. With Cyber Kitchen, with one innovative project after another we say how—understandably, simply, and safely enjoyable.”

A Network of Education and Awareness Across Brands

One of the international advocates of Deutsche Telekom’s Ambassador Programme is Jennifer Schaefer, field asset protection manager for T-Mobile in the US who has, for the last twelve-plus months, been part of the Magenta community fuelled by the business diversity ethos of inclusion and equity where individuals across the global landscape can explore and share, and where no ideas are off the table.

“It has roughly 350-plus people, the majority of whom are internal employees, as well as external ambassadors engaging in the life of Magenta, which includes T-Mobile US,” she said.

“This programme is outstanding and being utilised as a means to network across the globe in all categories and company subsidiaries such as T-Systems and T-Mobile US. There’s a small number of individuals in the US—around twenty—who as part of the voluntary programme, are continually building the networking bridge across the globe.

“There are many countries represented, departments engaged, and individual people building not only a partnership, but a network of education and awareness throughout the brands,” she explained.

Jennifer, who has worked in asset protection roles for other Fortune 500 brands including McDonald’s and Target, added, “It’s a very robust programme, and offers continuous engagement with the international partners and peers through various platforms, including bi-weekly calls, programme opportunities, and community events across the globe.

“I have been able to share asset protection programmes via the US and partnerships with the global teams in a traditional form, but also across various digital platforms to engage others and those in the security field such as physical retail, cyber, and IT,” she said.

A form of cross-border and territory learning platform, the initiative is aimed at giving employees from different backgrounds and countries a voice and enabling them to share ideas and best practice.

“It has a number of various virtual programmes through LinkedIn live coffee talks, a women-in-security community, mystery lunch concepts, learning and educational sessions, living culture development, grassroots efforts, and initiatives,” Jennifer said.

“There is also a summit in Germany in June this year that I plan to attend in person to finally meet my partners, as well as building upon the foundations of how our company is expanding their cross-pollination, building an integral foundation of partnership around the globe, and elevating support within their community. This initiative speaks of value, goals, and living the culture of people.”

Part of this people integration in security and asset protection has been working with European colleagues including Andrea Bindel-Schönmetzler, senior manager for security awareness based in Bonn, and Ingo Patzke of the Telekom security team based in Lower Saxony, Germany, who are both part of the ambassador programme.

From Humanitarianism to Sharing Knowledge

Ingo, who has been involved in the ambassador programme from the beginning, said, “When we first posted on Twitter in 2020, we realised early on that there was a huge opportunity to connect with different people. Now, two years on we have been able to prove that this can be shared internationally to help develop our people.

“It has skyrocketed in terms of interest. It is not just Europe, but territories including Singapore, the US, and Brazil. From small ideas we have created an international programme where the Magenta mindset connects us all together across different territories and time zones. It has certainly made me a better person and broadened my horizons,” said Ingo.

Working in tandem with international colleagues, Ingo has been supporting efforts to deliver three transporters of aid to Ukraine during the Russian invasion by delivering to the Polish border, another initiative that would not necessarily have grown wings without the access to the ambassador programme.

“We did this in our private time, but it connects us together, and the business was behind us. We were even able to light up the T-Mobile logo in Ukrainian colours,” he said.

The outreach also assisted victims of the German floods with the shipment of sandbags to affected areas.

But the programme is more than a humanitarian outpouring from business. It is about international colleagues learning from each other.

“It is all about sharing knowledge and allowing individuals across all channels and countries to stay connected and learn through each other’s professional acumen,” said Andrea, an expert in security awareness. “It is about engagement. If someone has a problem or a challenge, they simply reach out across the Deutsche Telekom network to get an answer.” 

Conducted in English, the community sessions are not all about asset protection or even other work-related communication, although they are a major focus. Lighter engagement involves hobby programmes, mystery lunch sessions, and members sharing images and stories of their pets.

“It’s about listening and learning as part of fun and engaging sessions. It encourages people to reach out,” said Andrea.

While Andrea can share security awareness, Jennifer is one of the go-to employees focussed upon physical plant security advice, guidance, and consultative information.

One of the key developments from the programme has been the Learning from Experts (LEX) sessions where every Deutsche Telekom colleague has the opportunity to learn from others, or present as a teacher in their field of expertise. Jennifer facilitated a number of sessions on the asset protection department within T-Mobile US in addition to one on the mobile distribution channel.

This means asset protection teams in the US can reach out to their European peers and vice versa when they encounter challenges or are in need of problem-solving, thereby co-operating and collaborating on a wide range of issues from physical stores to cyber-fraud. “It is collegiate and learning for everyone from everyone, free of charge,” said Jennifer.

But it is not exclusive to the Deutsche Telekom employee pool. External participants and champions in their field of expertise can be included as part of the intelligence and learning process. 

“It is voluntary participation in a corporate learning portal where everyone can share their knowledge and also learn new things through various resources, tools, and robust networking,” said Jennifer.

“For example, I deal with the bricks-and-mortar side of the business and can provide expertise here. Andrea is my go-to for all matters of creative security international campaign awareness,” she added.

Andrea agrees. “It has enabled me to think outside the box and learn more about Jennifer’s world,” she said.

In this way intelligence and best practice are exchanged between T-Mobile’s business operations in the US and Europe as part of a virtual and virtuous circle of learning. “It is all about looking beyond our own world of work. It allows people to reach out and helps build really strong foundations of knowledge,” said Andrea.

An Employee Grassroots Effort with Leadership Support

The collegiate approach was not created in a vacuum but was part of a groundswell of opinion that formed a strong foundation that, once implanted within the business, organically gathered its own momentum.

“The initiative came about as a so-called grassroots effort from the employee base with engrained support of all leadership partners. The passionate networking, active engagement, and love for our creative culture distinguishes our success from other companies,” said Jennifer.

The zeitgeist role of social media has played a pivotal part in the Deutsche Telekom sharing programme across a variety of platforms to engage and entertain as well as encompass all of the workforce. One example of this was in March 2021 when T-Mobile colleagues from multiple territories took part in the global sensation that was the Jerusalema Dance, a choreographed routine that has been praised by presidents and priests the world over by becoming a post-pandemic symbol of hope for Africa.

The viral video feed highlights the plurality, passion, and personality of the T-Mobile and Magenta brands as well as raising the profile of, and inducing smiles amongst, international colleagues.

Although all the work of the ambassador programme is conducted in the international language of English, this highly visual medium speaks in multiple tongues and takes learning beyond conventional classroom teaching. “What we are doing is educating people, but not in a conventional way. There is no death by PowerPoint,” said Andrea.

“We can reach out with security campaigns anywhere in the world from Mexico to India to show how cyber-crime works and impacts business and to encourage people to reach out with their issues. It is global awareness building and bringing people along on that journey,” she added.

Across the T-Mobile international estate there are currently more than 350 engaged in the programme, but that number is growing as the word spreads and colleagues begin to tune into monthly updates and, in the spirit of fun and interactivity, are given a virtual tour of their peers’ offices whether in Bruges, Singapore, Budapest, or wherever the mood of the agenda takes them.

“We are always looking at ways to share ideas and creativity. It’s a real melting pot, and there is no stopping us as we move forward with this,” said Andrea.

“No one has all of the answers, which is why we bring in other people and have implemented initiatives like the cyber-security cookbook or even a children’s security activity book named AwareNessi. It’s imaginative and makes participants eager to learn more as well as giving users useful insight to protect themselves.”

In the same spirit of necessity being the mother of invention, much of the activity generated out of the Deutsche Telekom Ambassador Programme owes its success to the global disruption of COVID-19.

Talking about colleagues including Andrea, Jennifer said, “This connectivity has enriched all our lives and, to be honest, if the pandemic had not happened, I would not have met this amazing woman and created the foundation of friendship and partnership. And we will not stop until everyone is connected.

“The fuel of our international network is to bring together the most diverse colleagues and cultures of the Magenta world to develop communities and also to support each other, to network, to run interdisciplinary projects, or to strengthen the company perception as a corporate influencer both externally and internally,” she added.

Ingo is also engaged in what is termed the Global Security Wireless Council, a gathering of Deutsche Telekom employees with expertise in the cyber-field discussing a wide range of issues from trends and patterns to organised retail crime.

“It is a grassroots effort to bridge the gap in knowledge with people like myself working in the field,” said Ingo, who was recently recognised for his contribution to the LEX programme. “Through our informal meet-and-greet across different time zones, we are sharing information with people of a similar mindset who are looking to protect their business. These guys are my strength and my rock.”

From climate change to COVID-19 and the cost-of-living crisis, the world is currently in a state of flux and heightened tension, and much has been written and said about how these issues impact upon mental well-being with prolonged incidents of absenteeism or struggling employees faced with workplace challenges quitting altogether. While these tensions continue, many businesses recognise the need to step up and reach out, and dare to care and share by learning from each other and facing down challenges together.

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