In today’s era of tabloid frenzy, it’s rare for a celebrity event to be shocking. But that was the case when news outlets reported in October 2016 that a group of thieves broke into Kim Kardashian West’s hotel room in Paris, bound and gagged her, and stole millions of dollars’ worth of jewelry from her.
Kardashian West was able to release herself after the thieves fled the Hôtel de Pourtalès on bicycles. She located her stylist, Simone Harouche, who was also staying in the hotel, and contacted the authorities who rushed to the scene.
Months later in January 2017, police arrested 10 individuals allegedly involved in the robbery—including mastermind Aomar Ait Khedache. In an interview with Le Monde, Khedache explained that the group of thieves targeted Kardashian West after she posted photos on social media of her jewelry collection and updates about her trip to Paris for fashion week.
“The jewels were shown on the Internet, and [she said] that she didn’t wear fakes…the time she would arrive in France, you just had to look at the Internet and you knew everything, absolutely everything,” Khedache said.
Using this information, along with data from social media accounts associated with Kardashian West’s family and friends traveling with her, the thieves were able to determine the opportune time to strike: when she was at the hotel alone after telling her bodyguard to accompany her sisters to a club for the evening.
Kardashian West later confirmed in an appearance on the Ellen DeGeneres Show that the thieves followed her online activity for almost two years before robbing her in Paris. The incident caused her to change her approach to security.
“I never thought I needed security standing outside my door,” she said. “Even though I had a lot of jewelry, and if you think about it I should’ve had a security guard outside my door 24/7 when I’m traveling, and I didn’t. Now I have several, just for me to be able to sleep at night.”
The robbery triggered a brief hiatus from social media for Kardashian West, as well as changes to how she uses social media in response to the robbery, including waiting to post about where she is until after she has left that location.
“If I want to video something, I’ll save it and post it when I leave,” she said in an interview with Alec Baldwin on his talk show after the robbery and her return to social media.
While Kardashian West’s robbery was unique, the threat of compromising someone’s digital security to create a physical threat to an individual or an organization is not. In fact, this very vulnerability is on the rise, says Nate Lesser, CEO and founder of cybersecurity firm Cypient Black.
“Attackers take the same kind of cost-benefit approach that we all do to the way they spend their time,” he explains. “One thing we know universally about hackers is that they’re very good at shifting, so they will shift from an enterprise approach to a targeted, personal attack on the executive of that enterprise. And that happens pretty regularly…it becomes a lot easier and a much softer target, and they can have the same kind of impact.”