Situational Awareness in Mail Screening

mail sorting last line of defense

One of the most important things you can do in mail security is to understand the importance of situational awareness when determining if a package or letter is a threat.

Earlier this year, we. dealt with the uneasiness of random terrorism as we witnessed Austin Texas handle a mail bomber.  It was somewhat reminiscent of the Washington D.C. sniper shootings in 2002.  There was no clear motive, and the victims had no connections to one another.

Luckily, the Austin bombings did not last long.  The police were able to track the perpetrator using video surveillance from a post office where he mailed one of the bombs.  To this day, however, we still do not know the motive of the Austin bomber.

This is not a typical scenario for mail bombs.

Usually, mail bombings are not random.   Rather there is a specific target in mind.  All of the politically charged mail borne terrorism threats that have happened this year targeted individuals.

While it may be fairly easy to send dangerous powder, liquid chemicals, or even IED’s through the mail, it’s also easy to prevent those threats from reaching their target with a little bit of awareness in the mailroom.

Mail sorting is one of the last lines of defense against threats. A little awareness and some critical thinking can go a long way to protect against threats.

Situational Awareness: Security Leads

In the last post of the blog series, we discussed the types of people that could be targets of mail borne threats.  Some targets are more obvious than others.  Political figures are clearly in need of specialized security measures.

However, the reality is anyone who is a public figure could be at risk.  That includes celebrities, business executives, activists, or even employees of a well known company.

Sometimes people choose to direct their anger towards a  company instead of a specific person.

This could result in a blind attack on the company at the physical location.  It could also result in a mail threat sent to a high profile person at the company, even if the attacker has no relationship with that specific employee.

In 2017 a Swedish man sent a letter bomb to CryptoPay, a cryptocurrency company based in London.  The only motive known so far is that the attacker attempted to change his password with CryptoPay’s support, and was unable to do so.

That is hardly a strong motive for sending bombs through the mail.  If you are a security lead at your company then you have to be prepared for any type of response from a disgruntled person, whether it’s a client, internal employee, or random person with no association to your organization.

Situational Awareness in the Mailroom

Security personnel in an organization can’t do everything.  The most important thing is to give the right tools to your employees to empower them to keep your organization safe.  The most important person in mail security is the person who sorts and screens the mail.

That is where situational awareness is most important.

Mail handlers should keep the larger context of their organization in mind when dealing with incoming mail, especially if you are the one actually opening the mail:

  • Does the intended recipient typically receive mail at this location?
  • Do you recognize the sender, and does it make sense to be receiving mail from this person?
  • Has your organization or VIP been in the news recently?
  • Does the letter or package look like the mail you typically receive?

In the end, if something seems suspicious, you should report it.  It’s always better to be safe than sorry.