PA Bar Association journalism award

dt.common.streams.StreamServerJust found out the Pennsylvania Bar Association picked my cybersecurity reporting as the winner of its journalism competition for a special report/series. This is a big deal for the Trib and a nice recognition from a group of professionals that I respect.

The story looked at how hackers are targeting lawyers because they often have great information on their clients that is propriety, highly valuable and typically very well organized! The Bar Association plans to give out the William A. Schnader Print Media Award for Special Report/Series in November.

The Inside Job

cyber logoAs journalists, we often report on secret meetings — closed to everyone but the participants. I dedicated “Breakway” to “anyone who has ever wondered what happens behind closed doors.” I did that mostly because I always wonder what decisions are made and deals reached behind closed doors.

For my latest assignment, I actually got to go behind closed doors. I went behind armed guards too. The U.S. Army War College permitted me to attend a policy planning session on “Cyber Sovereignty.” The three-day workshop brought together top minds from all branches of the military, from the private sector and from academia.

The event allowed me to provide readers of the Tribune-Review exclusive access to these deliberations about the future of our nation’s cybersecurity. I also discussed my findings on 90.5 WESA-FM, Pittsburgh’s NPR station.

My stories…

Infrastructure ‘legitimate target’ in battle for cyber supremacy

Summer Fowler

Summer Fowler

When Summer Fowler goes to sleep, the Cranberry mother of three knows computer hackers around the world are working through the night to undo the defenses she spends her days building.

Fowler, 37, is deputy technical director for cybersecurity solutions at CERT, the nation’s first computer emergency response team, at Carnegie Mellon University’s Software Engineering Institute. She works with Pentagon soldiers, intelligence directors and corporate titans to help them identify key electronic assets, secure them from cyber attacks and plan for what happens if someone steals them.

But at the end of the day, once her children are tucked into bed, Fowler wonders what the impact would be from a real cyber 9/11 attack…Read more.

How Pittsburgh invented computer emergency response

Richard Pethia

Richard Pethia

Pittsburgh’s prominent and growing role as a national center for cybersecurity started with a chance encounter more than 25 years ago.

On Nov. 2, 1988, researchers at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or DARPA, were ending the workday when calls started coming in from across the country. Something was slowing computer connections on the early Internet — moving freely, guessing passwords to break into systems, accessing files and quickly replicating.

About 60,000 people were connected to the infant web in those days, and many knew each other. The idea had been to build a network for military operations and research that could withstand attacks on any one or two individual computers.

But as the so-called Morris worm spread, questions about security quickly arose. The first computer virus had been unleashed…Read more.

Sony hack redefines online warfare

0212151306a-1CARLISLE — Rarely has a raunchy movie done so much to change the world.

When hackers broke into computer systems at Sony Pictures Entertainment in a failed attempt to stop the release of “The Interview” late last year, the cyberattack changed the way top American military policymakers look at online warfare, experts say.

Electronic skirmishes that had played out quietly among computer technicians at a hacked company and a federal agency contacted for advice instead went all the way to the Oval Office, as President Obama blamed the Sony incident on a nation-state attack by North Korea. Read more.

Intelligence agency to battle online threats

CARLISLE — If President Obama’s proposed new agency to coordinate federal cybersecurity efforts leads to increased information sharing among government agencies and private companies, that will improve defenses against hack attacks all around, experts gathered here this week said. Read more.

Off the record…

header_person2Off the record. Three words no reporter ever wants to hear. Unless the information in return makes the bargain worthwhile.

When I walked into the Journal of Law & Cyber Warfare one-day symposium in New York City, those were the first three words I heard. Nothing said at the conference could appear in a story, a tweet or even a text message. Unless I later obtained the speaker’s permission.


Daniel Garrie, founding editor of the Journal of Law & Cyber Warfare, (left) and Mitchell Silber, executive managing director of K2 Intelligence, talk during a rare on-the-record moment.

What at first seemed a burden turned into a blessing. Experts at the event talked freely about the fears that keep them up at night. It’s stuff that would keep up many Americans too, if they knew about it. That has been my driving objective with the ongoing Cyber Rattling series: Making people aware of the large, and rapidly growing, cyber threat.

As it turned out, I was able to talk with many of the experts in on-the-record conversations. And I was able to turn out this story about the potential for cyber warfare. The lines between cyber criminal acts and state-sponsored attacks are becoming blurry. More stories will turn up in the coming weeks and months as I continue to expand my coverage of this topic.


Why Pittsburgh?

For the second time in as many weeks, national reporters are asking: Why Pittsburgh? First it was U.S. Attorney Hickton indicting the Chinese military hackers. Now it’s Hickton and the FBI going after Russian criminal hackers.

Why Pittsburgh? The FBI’s top cyber investigator Keith Mularski told me that’s easy: “I just think it goes to the team we have here in Pittsburgh and the resources we have. … We have one of the best teams in the country, if not all of the world.”

Talking with experts who worked this latest case from the inside out, I was able to piece together a story you won’t read anywhere else. It tells about how the nation’s top cyber experts — in Pittsburgh — tracked down hackers all the way back to a Black Sea resort town in Russia.

This map shows the locations of computers in Pennsylvania infected with the Russian malware Gameover Zeus on a single day in May 2013.

This map shows the locations of computers in Pennsylvania infected with the Russian malware Gameover Zeus on a single day in May 2013.

FBI cyber agents in Pittsburgh helped bring down two Russian-based cybercrime schemes that infected more than Continue reading