About Deb Radcliff
Deb Radcliff: On the Cybercrime Beat
In 1995, I left general assignment newspaper reporting to research what would become a best-selling book about infamous hacker, Kevin Mitnick, while he was on the FBI's most wanted list. Within 12 hours of accepting that assignment, his punk hacker friends found my unlisted number with nothing more than my name and state and called incessantly in the middle of the night. Needless to say, my eyes were opened. I knew the Internet would pose a huge security problem for businesses and home users as they started to adopt home computers.
The dictionary definition of a hacker is someone who tests technology, pushes it past its limits to see where it breaks and then desires to fix it. I spent more than 15 years immersed in hacking communities like the Cult of the Dead Cow (CdC), the l0pht, the Ninja Strike Force (NFC), Digital DawgPound (DDP) and the 2600 club.
So Much Trickery
People are easy to trick in an environment where you can't really confirm who you are talking to or doing business with. Mitnick and his friends were proof of what you could do with a telephone and a dial up modem. Imagine Internet connections directly into the places we do business, and then into our homes, which of course is what followed and now we're overridden with cybercrime.
So, I became the first investigative journalist to make cybercrime a beat. My first article, Barbarians at the Firewall for Byte Magazine was so well-regarded that the new cyber field division of the FBI asked to use it for training materials. This was 1996.
Fast-forward to today. I've written hundreds of articles for dozens of print and online publications, spoken at West Point, developed and ran a well-respected cyber security analyst program for the SANS Institute, and now as an independent cyber security author and analyst, I've published my first book, Breaking Backbones, part 1 of the hacker trilogy.
Birth of a Cyberthriller Series
Around the year 2000, the story of my fictional cyber thriller trilogy series Breaking Backbones was conceived when Sun Microsystems Chairman at the time, Scott McNealy, said if he could embed a locater chip in his dog, why couldn't he do so to protect his child? Clearly that would be safer to keep an eye on our children. But it wouldn't be so cool as those children grow into their teens then to adults and want space to do the things young folks do—without being monitored and tracked.
I considered the social acceptance of such a chip implant, and how the chips could be used for just about every purpose—from accessing accounts, buildings and computers, to getting health care, banking and beyond. A chip identity would sure be convenient and probably more secure than our broken security and access controls (passwords especially) used today. But knowing the hackers as I do (and they are persistent folks), the chips would ultimately be hacked somehow just as every other digital system is hackable today. And I considered how the chips could be abused to control people.
As I went down this rabbit hole about human chip implants, the story of Breaking Backbones emerged in my imagination. Soon, characters began to form, such as Cy, formerly Cindy Frank, an ace cyber investigator who refuses the implant, leaves her contractor job with DoD and goes off grid to become a hacker den mom and help lead a cyberwar against GlobeCom. I pictured hackers walking past other chipped people with readers in their pockets and copying stranger's chip data to use for medical care, which would be particularly helpful for the marginalized who didn't take the chips and needed care.
For eighteen years, the story percolated in my gray matter as I pursued criminals across the Internet covering the cybercrime beat. All the while, I learned the techniques, lifestyles and philosophies that make the people in these communities unique. Those characteristics trickled into the people and personalities portrayed in my hacker trilogy, Breaking Backbones.
The first book, Information is Power published in April 2021. Order it at Amazon or Archway Publishing.
The second book, Information Should Be Free, is in editing and scheduled to publish in late 2021. The third book, Out of Chaos Comes Order, will conclude the series in mid 2022.
I am still covering the cybercrime and cybersecurity beat as an analyst, author, speaker and thought leader, because cybercrime never sleeps.
Awards and Recognition
Neal Award Winner – Deb Radcliff
- NEAL Award First Place for individual investigative reporting, “Hackers, Terrorists and Spies” (Software Magazine, 1998), Class B size magazine.
- NEAL Award First Place for group investigative reporting, best news story, “Wireless LANs: Trouble in the Air,” (Computerworld 2003).
- American Society of Business Press Editors First place for investigative reporting, "Hackers, Terrorists and Spies," (Software Magazine, 2008).
- 2nd place, best news story, Journalism Association of Community Colleges, 1986
- Recipient of top journalism scholarship in state of California, 1987