In September 2022, Optus – one of Australia's largest telecommunications companies – announced one of the most severe data breaches in the country's history.
I broke several key pieces of news that shaped the public and the government's discussion of the breach. My tweets and stories were cited in more than 90 news stories, and I did more than 15 radio and TV interviews, including live spots on ABC News, the Today Show as well as The Project and Channel 7.
The scoops included:
- Broke news on Twitter at 6:21 AM on Sept. 24 about the extortion attempt.
- Broke news on Twitter at 9:32 AM on Sept. 24 that the hacker had released legitimate Optus data by verifying in person a sample of the data with a woman in person who lives near me. I also verified it using Have I Been Pwned.
- Broke news on Twitter at 10:38 PM on Sept. 24 that I communicated directly with the hacker and confirmed how the person stole the data from Optus. I also confirmed what the hacker said with a second, separate source in Australia who had close knowledge of the incident.
- Broke news on Twitter at 6:17 AM on Sept. 27 on Twitter of the intensified extortion and release of a batch of 10,000 new records.
- Broke news on Twitter at 6:36 AM on Sept. 27 that Medicare numbers were in the data, something that Optus had not told the government yet and was mentioned just four hours later by Home Affairs and Cyber Security Minister Clare O'Neil.
- Broke news live on the Today Show around 7:30 AM on Sept. 27 that Medicare numbers were in the new 10K data set (screen shot above).
- Broke news on Twitter that Optus didn't pay a ransom at 1:21 PM on Sept. 27.
I wrapped all of this news up into two stories I filed later:
Optus Under $1 Million Extortion Threat in Data Breach
Exclusive: Optus Attacker Says Unauthenticated API Endpoint Led to Breach
Bankinfosecurity, Sept. 25, 2022
Optus Attacker Halts AU$1.5 Million Extortion Attempt
Exclusive: Medicare Numbers Exposed and Optus Says It Has Not Paid a Ransom
Bankinfosecurity.com, Sept. 27, 2022
In 2004 I was the first journalist to get an exclusive interview with Sgt. Charles Robert Jenkins, a U.S. Army soldier who defected to North Korea by crossing the Demilitarized Zone during a routine patrol in 1965, after he left North Korea. The interview, conducted in secret in Jenkins' Tokyo hospital room in August 2004, explored the bizarre and fascinating details of what life in North Korea was like for 39 years.
The story originally ran in the Far Eastern Economic Review (at the time a weekly Hong Kong-based news magazine), and an abridged version ran in the Wall Street Journal. The story and photos later ran on the Associated Press wire. About 72 newspapers worldwide either ran the story itself or cited the Far Eastern Economic Review'’s exclusive interview.
As a result, I was one of several journalists interviewed for "Crossing the Line," a documentary by British filmmaker Daniel Gordon about the last living American soldier in North Korea who defected by walking across the border in the 1960s.
The film, narrated by Christian Slater, was shown at several film festivals worldwide. I spoke about claims of mistreatment made by Jenkins after he left North Korea, which are denied by another defector, James Joseph Dresnok, who maintains his life is better in the isolated communist country than it would have been in America.
Exclusive Interview: Traitor? After 40 Years in North Korea, This U.S. Soldier Speaks Out
Far Eastern Economic Review, Sept. 4, 2004
The Wall Street Journal, Sept. 4, 2004
The Ransomware Files podcast
In 2021, I launched The Ransomware Files, which was a narrative-style podcast that dug deep into what is one of the internet's greatest crime waves. Ransomware has devastated schools, hospitals and businesses, and it's a national security concern. I wanted to create a narrative podcast that told in-depth stories about ransomware's effects and also pass on helpful tips on how to defend against or recover from ransomware.
At times it was a difficult project because no company wanted to talk about their worst day ever, which is the day cybercriminals get inside their systems. Also, I made a rule early on that all sources have to be named so that the project had an intimacy and transparency that resonated with listeners. Despite those barriers, the podcast flourished, and it grew into a unique series that hit its target market of information security professionals. I did everything for the podcast, from interviews to writing scripts to research to the audio production.
The podcast is still available on Apple, Spotify and many other podcast platforms. Clicking the graphic to the left will take you to it on Spotify.
From 1999 until 2004, I worked as both a staff writer and photographer for Pacific Stars and Stripes, the overseas newspaper for U.S. military personnel. It is owned by the U.S. Defense Department but has a charter from Congress to operate as any other commercial, uncensored newspaper. The last year I was in Seoul, I freelanced for a variety of publications. The following are some of the stories I wrote over those years.
Life on the line - Tensions hit home for troops on DMZ
Pacific Stars and Stripes, Jan. 6, 2003
Bush eyes 'evil' N. Korea at DMZ
Pacific Stars and Stripes, Feb. 22, 2002
Combat veterans discuss coming storm after 9/11 attacks
Pacific Stars and Stripes, Sept. 28, 2001
After 9/11, Marines search for missing colleague in rubble
Pacific Stars and Stripes, Sept. 23, 2001
Handshake ushers in historic Korea summit
Pacific Stars and Stripes, June 14, 2000
Seoul pastor lone survivor of North Korean commando unit
Pacific Stars and Stripes, March 21, 2000
Gradual withdrawal of U.S. troops from South Korea strains alliance
Newsday, May 1, 2005
The scientist behind the stem cell success story
San Francisco Chronicle, May 29, 2005
North Korean defections strain ties
Washington Times, Feb. 11, 2005
U.S. set to pull out from S. Korea bases
Washington Times, Dec. 17, 2004
I was the lead reporter on a team of reporters investigating the murder of an American exchange student in Seoul in 2001. The complex case involved a multitude of possible suspects, a botched police investigation, a retracted confession and international jurisdictional problems. We consistently broke news on the case.
The reporting involved contacting witnesses who left shortly after the murder, interviews with suspects and law enforcement while maintaining sensitivity in light of a terrible crime. The case eventually attracted international media attention. ABC’s “Primetime” program produced a segment on the case, as well as a similar investigative program on a major Korean television network. A book – “Murder in Room 103” – was also written by Court TV.
Death of American college student in Seoul hotel baffles investigators
Pacific Stars and Stripes, May 6, 2001
Suspect in Penich case extradited to S. Korea
Pacific Stars and Stripes, Dec. 22, 2002
Suspect in Penich death claims to be 'scapegoat'
Pacific Stars and Stripes, March 8, 2003
Snider's mom in daughter's court
Pacific Stars and Stripes, April 13, 2003
Agent: Unnerved by inconsistencies, Snider confessed
Pacific Stars and Stripes, May 24, 2003
Not guilty verdict in Penich killing; judges cite lack of physical evidence
Pacific Stars and Stripes, June 21, 2003
Despite acquittal, Snider may be tried again in Penich case
Pacific Stars and Stripes, June 22, 2003
Snider details a confession she repudiates
Pacific Stars and Stripes, Aug. 24, 2003
Acquittal in Penich death survives appeal in Seoul
Pacific Stars and Stripes, October 16, 2003
Penich murder featured on TV news show
Pacific Stars and Stripes, Jan. 25, 2004