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Covering Cybersecurity in an Era of Never-ending Attacks

February 5, 2020  |  12:15 pm  |  Briscoe Center SRH 2.108

On Wednesday, February 5, 2020, the Strauss Center and the School of Journalism welcomed Nicole Perlroth, a cybersecurity reporter at The New York Times, for a talk on “Covering Cybersecurity in an Era of Never-ending Attacks.” Nicole Perloth is the inaugural “Journalist in Residence” for the Strauss Center’s Journalism and World Affairs program.

After introductory remarks by Dr. Robert M. Chesney, Perlroth began by answering the question on all of our minds—”have I been hacked?”—to which she responded with a resounding “yes.” Perlroth then explained how she came to join the New York Times as a cybersecurity journalist despite not being a cyber expert at the time, noting that this was, in fact, an asset, as the New York Times was seeking a strong journalist who could translate cyber news into accessible content. Perlroth then walked the audience through a chronological overview of her major stories, of which there have been many. She discussed how she built partnerships with white hat hackers, who were able to help her make major discoveries, such as the revelation that several major legal and financial firms, including Goldman Sachs, were using conference system software that could be penetrated by hackers. This, to Perlroth, was an early indication of the U.S.’s vulnerability to and denial of cyberattacks. This phenomenon was further illustrated by Perlroth’s reporting on the New York Times’s own cyber vulnerabilities in 2013. She was grateful that she had been given the go-ahead to publish this work, as it opened the door for U.S. companies to begin talking openly about other instances of successful Chinese espionage initiatives.

Perlroth’s talk was wide-ranging, covering her experiences with reporting on various governments’ engagement in acts of cyber espionage, including the United States. Her discussions of Russian, North Korean, and Iranian cyber espionage infrastructure was particularly nerve-wracking, and served as a call to action for U.S. cybersecurity experts and officials. Much of Perlroth’s reporting has exemplified that these malicious actors have likely already laid the groundwork for major cyberattacks in an array of sectors. Such is the case, she noted, with the degree of success in infiltration of U.S. power grid systems by Russian cyberattackers, as she reported in 2018. In cases such as this, it seems clear that our cyber adversaries are waiting for the right geopolitical moment to capitalize on these cyber assets. Perlroth further discussed the efforts of many countries to turn cyber espionage technology on their own citizens, as she documented in her reporting on the UAE’s use and promotion of a fake messaging platform. Perlroth concluded by describing her last years of reporting on cybersecurity as “dizzying,” noting that the only trend seems to be an escalation of the stakes and instances of cyberattacks.

Biography

Nicole Perlroth covers cybersecurity at The New York Times. She is the recipient of several journalism awards for her reporting on efforts by the Chinese government to steal military and industrial trade secrets. Her profile, written for The Times, of a security blogger was optioned by Sony Pictures. Her discovery of Chinese military hackers in a dusty backroom office server in a Wisconsin welding shop was optioned for a television series by The Weinstein Company.

A Bay Area native, Ms. Perlroth covered venture capital at Forbes Magazine before joining the Times in 2011. She is the author of the forthcoming book “This Is How They Tell Me The World Ends” with Penguin/Portfolio. She is a guest lecturer at the Stanford Graduate School of Business and a graduate of Princeton University and Stanford University.

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