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Andrew Conte

Andrew Conte's Focus on Media: Closing gaps between cybersecurity experts, reporters

| Saturday, Oct. 28, 2017, 8:48 p.m.
The Center for Media Innovation at Point Park University and the Newseum Institute, a journalism think tank, recently hosted a workshop in Washington on media coverage of cybersecurity issues. Journalists and cybersecurity experts need to work at understanding each other better, participants concluded.
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The Center for Media Innovation at Point Park University and the Newseum Institute, a journalism think tank, recently hosted a workshop in Washington on media coverage of cybersecurity issues. Journalists and cybersecurity experts need to work at understanding each other better, participants concluded.
Tribune-Review contributing writer Andrew Conte.
Tribune-Review contributing writer Andrew Conte.

WASHINGTON

They don't even have the words.

Cybersecurity stories fill the headlines almost daily: The Equifax breach potentially compromised personal data of more than 140 million Americans — nearly half of us. Yahoo finally acknowledged losing email addresses and passwords for every single customer — about 3 billion accounts. We're still waiting to find out just how much the Russians hacked into the 2016 general election .

We see such headlines so often that many of us have become numb to the potential risk. Worse, reporters covering these stories don't always know how to describe the real danger — or how to separate legitimate threats from hyperbole. Too often, they lack the vocabulary, context and experience to converse with technical experts and convey meaningful alerts to the public. Instead, the public hears a wall of noise in which relatively minor events get similar billing to those that really threaten our lives.

This is what top cybersecurity experts, journalists and students concluded at a D.C. event hosted by Point Park University's Center for Media Innovation and the Newseum Institute , a journalism think tank. The Journal of Law & Cyber Warfare provided technical support.

Part of the problem stems from experts who understand the technology — but have trouble explaining it to a lay person. Attendee Kim Albarella, senior director of cybersecurity marketing at payroll company ADP , told me: “Even when a cybersecurity reporter talks to someone in security ... it's still a very technical conversation that is often hard to understand. There is often a gap between the reporter and the security expert and that could lead to inconsistencies and sometimes, inaccuracies in reporting of security incidents.”

Another concern is news outlets using salacious headlines to attract internet clicks, even when stories don't live up to the hype. The public, hurt because legitimate threats get the same treatment as minor ones, stops paying attention after a while.

Fortunately, strategies exist to solve these problems if journalists and cybersecurity experts are willing to work together.

Because even reporters who write frequently about cybersecurity sometimes struggle with jargon and concepts, we need a lexicon for understanding and communicating these issues. This could be as simple as an online glossary of common terms ?? updated as new technologies emerge. That would remove some of the mystery around cybersecurity. For instance, reporters often talk about the “dark net” as some mystical place. It's just a part of the internet that requires specific protocols to access.

Reporters and cybersecurity experts also need to work more closely before a crisis happens to understand each other better. That way, they can talk intelligently and confidently when events occur.

Computer-security challenges change rapidly. Reporters in today's disrupted media industry don't always have time for in-depth conversations that don't immediately result in stories. With a threat this complicated and dangerous, however, reporters and security experts must make time to work together for the public's benefit.

Andrew Conte is the director of the Center for Media Innovation at Point Park University.

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