headshot of News Corp chief information security officer Billy O'Brien, '01

Protecting a media heavyweight from cybercrime

August 2, 2023

National headlines trumpeted the criminal escapades of Kevin Mitnick in the early 1990s. Hacking into corporate and government computer systems landed the renegade computer programmer on the FBI’s most wanted list, yet he eluded capture for two-and-a-half years before being arrested in February 1995. As a high school student, Billy O’Brien, ’01, recalled being fascinated by Mitnick’s story and wondering how he could get into the nascent cybersecurity field.

Twenty-eight years later, cybersecurity is big business, and O’Brien is a central player. As chief information security officer for News Corp, he oversees the cybersecurity of Rupert Murdoch’s global media conglomerate. The company comprises digital real estate services; subscription video services; news and information services, including the New York Post, Wall Street Journal, Barron’s, and Dow Jones Newswires; and book publisher HarperCollins.

“This is the career I’ve always wanted,” he said. “My objectives are to maintain trust with our customers and team members, manage technology risk, and protect our digital assets against attack or manipulation. This includes protecting our journalists, some would say the lifeblood of the company, so they can do their job without fear of intimidation or retribution.”

O’Brien does this by managing the company’s cybersecurity teams, which operate out of hub offices in New York City, Sydney, Bangalore, Barcelona, and London, as well as from many smaller offices. Having offices spread across the globe ensures round-the-clock coverage.

“The most important part of my job is leadership, especially forming and optimizing a team that is best positioned, prepared, and equipped for success,” said the alumnus of the University of Richmond’s Jepson School of Leadership Studies. “I strive to create a positive culture that promotes radical candor, individual thought, meritocracy, and a commitment to doing what’s best for the company above the individual. Cybersecurity is a team sport—we win or lose as a team, and we have to win.”

Cybersecurity is a team sport—we win or lose as a team, and we have to win.

Billy O'Brien
Chief Information Security Officer, News Corp

Teamwork is especially critical during crises, he said, citing as an example a 2022 cyberattack waged against News Corp. O’Brien couldn’t comment further on the matter, but public reporting has assessed that those behind the attack had a China nexus and were involved in espionage activities to collect intelligence.

To prevent or mitigate such attacks, he said his team stays abreast of the latest issues in the ever-evolving technology sector and thinks like hackers to anticipate potential threats.

“Complacency, ego, and hubris are our enemy,” he said. “An attacker can be wrong a million times, but needs to be right only once. We cannot afford to be wrong even once.”

O’Brien got his first taste of working on security issues two years out of college, when he served as a special assistant to then Vice President Dick Cheney on homeland security policy, focusing on telecommunications, technology, and infrastructure protection. A few years later, at a time when cybersecurity was in its infancy, he served as the George W. Bush administration’s director of cybersecurity policy.

“I had the honor of contributing to the Comprehensive National Cybersecurity Initiative," he said. "Signed into law by President Bush, it established a front line of defense against immediate threats to federal and other critical infrastructure. The overall goal was to shift focus from reactive to proactive, consider the next evolution of digital threats, and grow the next generation of cyber talent."    

Years later, the News Corp executive said he remains committed to promoting cybersecurity.

“This is exactly what I want to do and where I want to be.”