Short Article: Advantages and Disadvantages of Overt, Low Profile and Covert Security


Verified Military
Oct 31, 2006
Short Article: Advantages and Disadvantages of Overt, Low Profile and Covert Security (can be found at

One of the lectures that I really enjoy presenting and discussing with fellow professionals is the lecture that explains the advantages and disadvantages of overt, low profile and covert security. Now, prior to discussing this, one should define what these are; usually when asking participants in a class to define these, I get examples of how these are implemented, correct or not, but very few actually provide definitions of what these terms actually mean. When reading this short article, please keep in mind, that this is indeed a very basic, small insight into these terms and profiles.

Let’s start with some basic definitions within the context of this article:


How “hard”, protected a target appears to be so as to discourage hostile acts toward the target.

Hostile Surveillance

The gathering of information, from the field, that is essential in increasing the chances of a successful attack on the target.


Information that the security apparatus can gather from the field, such as suspected hostile surveillance agents etc.

Reaction time

The time it takes from the security person recognizing the threat to when they can react to minimize damage.


How alert does the security person appear to be. In this context it is referring to a visual assessment during routine activities.

Security Awareness/Culture

Security awareness are obvious indicators of security that may indicate to the adversary that some security measures are in place and therefore act as a deterrent. The adversary will focus on circumventing these security measures in order to succeed in their hostile act.


When discussing overt, low profile and covert security, any clothing or accessories that are similar between team members should be considered “uniform” and thus uniform is not limited to clothes with badges or logo’s on them.

Security Master Plan

The security master plan encompasses every aspect of security for the specific place, event or EP assignment. The SMP os the product of the Risk, Threat, Vulnerability analysis and is designed to strengthen against the relevant vulnerabilities identified. Whereas the RTVA includes analysis, suggestions and recommendations, the SMP defines exactly, and in fine detail what will be implemented in the field.

Types of Security Profiles

Overt Security

Overt security is the most prevalent level of security profile currently in the private sector. Overt security utilizes security measures that are visible to both the trained and untrained eye. These measures could range from obvious indicators of security awareness such as signs, camera’s, bollards, gates etc., to uniformed security personnel.

The primary advantage to overt security measures is the deterrent factor, which is massive. From early on in the target selection process, the adversary might simply decide there’ll be too much resistance and therefore either decide not to attack or to select an easier target; security’s objective has been achieved, right? Right.

The disadvantages of overt security however are plentiful; by nature, security is defensive, meaning reactive so the overt security person will always react to an attack only once the attack has begun. This means that no matter how high the security person’s aptitude for the job is, how alert they are or how well trained they are, they will almost always react to the threat after the attack has begun and therefore the tactical advantage (surprise) is always in the hands of the attacker. In addition, even amateur hostile surveillance on potential or defined targets will try their best to avoid being detected by the security personnel, camera’s etc., thus allowing them to collect their information unhindered as well as usually circumventing security from identifying this process and collecting information on them, even basic information. Due to the surprise when the attack happens, security personnel will have no time to warn people under their protection or other security personnel, nor will they have time to initiate preventative security measures.


Deterrence: High


Intelligence: None to Low

Reaction: Very little

Welcoming: Low to Medium

Low Profile Security

Low Profile security is what is in error, most often referred to as covert security. Low profile security is often the most versatile of security strategies and includes indicators of security awareness that can be identified by the trained professional but will not easily be identified by a non-trained layman. These may include semi-hidden camera’s, security personnel in similar civilian clothes but with uniform indicators such as weapon imprints, tactical watches, tactical shoes, radio ear pieces, etc.

Low profile security is most effective when dealing with amateur adversaries as the low profile of the security measures and personnel will enable the security person to potentially identify the attack in the very early stages or even before it happens. The low profile security agent may be able to gather intelligence on suspected hostile surveillants, as well as provide warning should an attack materialize. Even though more professional adversaries may identify the low profile measures and personnel, this in itself has a valuable deterrent effect and during an attack, overt security would be focused on more than low profile, simply as they're easier to identify. As an example, having a low profile presence as part of an overall security master plan at a high profile public venue that wants visitors to feel welcome, yet wants to deter attackers. I have seen this successfully implemented at upper scale hotels, mass transport hubs, large public and private events and other publicly accessible facilities.


Deterrence: Medium to High


Intelligence: Low to Medium

Reaction: Medium to High

Welcoming: Medium to High

Covert Security

This is by far the most difficult to teach, implement and conduct. This covers security measures that are invisible both to the non-security person as well to the trained security person.

Due to it’s truly covert nature, this “flavor” of security has very little deterrent capability. Now, if it’s invisible to everyone, how can it have deterrent capability at all? Well, if it is known that this form of security exists around a person, event or place, the deterrent factor will be very large and effective. Consider a hostile person or group knowing that there is highly trained professional security at their prospective target, but they cannot see them and thus it will be very difficult to circumvent them and thus potentially deter them.

In the vast majority of cases in the non-governmental sector, this will not happen so we can safely say that in the private and corporate sector covert security has a deterrent factor of zero. This is correct, it is not it’s deterrent capability that makes covert security one of the most effective tools for defending against hostile acts; it is the element of surprise, the tactical advantage back in the hands of the security experts that achieves this.

The covert security agent does not stick to a set routine, they do not have pre-defined meal breaks, toilet breaks or downtime during a shift; they have very little routine and are completely and truly covert. They have highly developed covers and cover stories, multiple "civilian" vehicles and props and perhaps disguises if necessary.

These covert agents have zero deterrence, but indeed, can collect information on possible hostile surveillants and as they themselves won’t be specifically targeted, possess more time for warning people of an impending attack as well as have the upper hand as they will be the ones surprising the attackers when they (the agents) come out of the woodwork to stop an attack before or as it unfolds.

Covert security combined with overt and sometimes low profile means, is the ultimate combination of deterrence and complete surprise and tactical control.


Intelligence: High

Warning: High

Reaction: High

Welcoming: High

Tactical Advantage: High


Deterrence: None

Blue on Blue: Low

What is right for your environment?

Every environment, situation and event is different; each with their own unique set of challenges, risks, threats and vulnerabilities. This article aims to present a very basic explanation on the advantages and disadvantages of security profiles and thus cannot recommend a cookie cutter suggestion as to what is best.