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Nicole Perlroth Lecture 2/18/21

Nicole Perlroth’s “This Is How They Tell Me the World Ends”

April 21, 2021 |  12:15 - 1:15 pm  |  Zoom Webinar

On April 21, the Strauss Center welcomed the New York Times cybersecurity reporter Nicole Perlroth for a virtual conversation, moderated by Strauss Center Director Bobby Chesney, on her newly released book, “This Is How They Tell Me the World Ends: The Cyber Weapons Arms Race.” Perloth began the talk by providing an overview of the relevant events which preceded her writing of the book. Perloth’s reporting uncovered a host of cyber vulnerabilities in the U.S. for which there were no policy responses, such as Russia’s escalation of cyberattacks on the U.S. and Iran ramping up cyber espionage. Perloth set out to explore the market for hardware and software vulnerabilities, aiming to ascertain the U.S. stance on these vulnerabilities, and to further explore possible policy means of containing this escalating problem. She discovered that in the market of vulnerabilities, governments are not regulators but rather consumers. Her book therefore aims to educate citizens and lawmakers alike on these issues so that steps can be taken to mitigate harms resulting from exploitation of vulnerabilities.

Perloth then discussed two recent cyber incidents—the Hafnium breach of Microsoft and the Solarwinds attack—noting that the former was a classic example of Chinese intellectual property theft, whereas the latter was a novel breach, given that the attackers penetrated government systems by way of a domestic company. When asked about possible policy means of shoring up U.S. cyber defense, Perloth discussed the idea of offering tax credits companies that maintain secure cyber design. Perloth also discussed the challenges of recruiting and retaining top cyber talent in the U.S. as there are more lucrative employment options in the private sector, generating a “skill shortage.” She therefore floated the idea of a public-private partnership wherein government agencies could welcome talent from top domestic tech companies for short-term tours of duty. During the Q&A session, Perloth questions on several topics including the efficacy of hack-back operations, the role of rising cyber powers, the impact of non-state actors on the cyber threat landscape, and more. Listen to the full conversation below, and purchase a copy of her book here.


Nicole Perlroth is an award-winning cybersecurity journalist for The New York Times, where her work has been optioned for both film and television. She is a regular lecturer at the Stanford Graduate School of Business and a graduate of Princeton University and Stanford University. She lives with her family in the Bay Area, but increasingly prefers life off the grid in their cabin in the woods.

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