Last week I realized I’d been in lockdown-isolation-quarantine for a full quarter-year. Three months sat at home, with only a couple of brief trips to the deserted office, plus every weekend at the dacha with the similarly isolated family. Like for everyone – a very extraordinary daily existence. For me – no planes/airports, no hotels, no meetings or speeches: in short – very little travel.
However, everything’s relative: in three months we’ve all traveled 230+ million kilometers (a quarter of a full orbit of Earth around the sun)! And that’s without taking into account the fact that the Solar System itself travels at some crazy speed. One thing that hasn’t changed much since lockdown began is business meetings – they’ve simply all moved online. Ah yes – and all our business in general is carrying as usual, unaffected by biological viruses ).
But enough lockdown talk; you’re probably tired of hearing anything in connection with it. Accordingly, herewith, I continue with more of my tales from the cyber-past side; this time – interviews with newspapers, magazines, radio, TV, plus assorted other public performances. (I was reminded of my ‘media relations’ activity while recalling my week of interview-hell at CeBIT long ago the other day when compiling my CeBIT recollections (Cyber-yesteryear, pt. 4). And it turns out I’ve plenty to relate to you about interesting experiences talking to the media and public speaking and all that – plenty that’s fun and unusual, plus of course a few (brightened and polished) photos too.
And there’ll be all sorts of different sizes and flavors of media-tales coming up too: from speeches in practically empty halls – to rammed stadiums! From unknown tiny local media publications – to top-tier global media household-name conglomerates! From professional lectures at leading universities and/or with specially tech-equipped audiences – to informal lectures about the wonders of arithmetic on a ship sailing to… Antarctica via Drake Passage! Eugene is the name; variation is the game ).
Right. I guess the logical place to begin is right at the start…
I somehow intuitively realized the importance and necessity of media activity from the outset – in the early 90s. So I did what I could: I wrote articles that were published in computer magazines, while I also had my first taste of giving speeches at conferences. But it was all mere baby steps; I yearned for more, and understood ‘more’ was categorically necessary.
In those times antivirus topics weren’t referred to as the serious sounding ‘cybersecurity’ yet; it was all just some kinda kids-play, hardly professional, and certainly not what grown-ups did. But for some reason I felt that wasn’t right, and that the fight against cyber-badness was only just beginning. And that it wasn’t just ‘computer pests’ that were cavorting around, and that their creation wasn’t just down to self-taught teenagers’ need for self-validation. Sometimes skillful professionals were behind them, but not for money (back then there was no money on/via the internet); instead – also just to satisfy some strange need to prove themselves as ‘great’. Accordingly it couldn’t be described as cybercrime, merely cyber-hooliganism (or cyber-infantility:).
The especially acute need to tell all I had to say about computer viruses and the antivirus programs and technologies that fight them came about after CeBIT 1992 – my first ever global IT exhibition-show abroad. I became nearly obsessed with the idea of ‘the people need to know this!’, but back then no one in the media was interested, as hardly anyone in the general public was interested either, as AV was all so new. So what did I do? I interviewed myself! I wrote out a list of questions, answered them, sent everything off to Russia’s Computer Press magazine, and the ‘Q&A/interview’ was published in its May 1992 issue!
In that self-interview, what’s somewhat prophetic is how I said that most promising for the Russian computer industry back then wasn’t building and selling end products (it was impossible at the time), but development of the technology that goes inside the products in the West, and/or the East. And as it turned out, five years later it was namely doing just that – licensing our antivirus engine (to Finns) – that became the principal business of our company! It was down to that licensing that we survived, earned income to invest in developing new technology, fine tuned our product range, and later went on to conquer the global market. Careful what you wish for in self-interviews ).
After cutting my teeth with the Computer Press article, my media activity just kept going up. In the year since it, I was involved in a few more articles. One of them was only a relatively short one, in which two colleagues and I were interviewed, but, like the Computer Press self-Q&A, a prophetic one. It was in the British Virus Bulletin magazine, and had the title: ‘The Russians Are Coming!‘. Ha, ha… very funny ). Thing is – the title was true. We were coming! And fast-forward to 2007 and our turnover overtook that of the established British AV firm Sophos – the company that founded and owned Virus Bulletin itself! Careful what you josh about ).
And on it went…
In 1994, we won the first ever large-scale international antivirus testing contest at the University of Hamburg. The win in itself – super; the mentions we kept getting in various specialized publications afterward – mega-bonus! And around that time, besides our regular participation in CeBIT, we started to take our first timid steps onto PR platforms of other countries. For example, in the UK, where two stories in particular stand out in my memory…
Exactly when the first one took place I don’t remember. At some point in 1999, we took the plunge and organized a press tour for the British press. We sent out invites, booked a conference room in a London hotel, and flew in. Hopes high… but things didn’t go quite as we’d have liked. Practically all the journalists who came to see us one after the other said pretty much the same thing: “In the UK we’ve got Symantec, McAfee, Trend Micro, and even our own Sophos. Why do we need you guys?!”
Oof. The only thing for it was to tell them straight: about our unique – better – technologies; about how we’re much better than the rest in catching the most fearsome of polymorphic, mutating computer viruses; about how thoroughly deeply we can search for infected files in archives and installers (no one else came anywhere close); and last and most: about our totally unique technology for blocking the most common headaches of IT security folks back then – macro viruses. “Ah. I see. Interesting. Actually (where’s my pen?) what was that?… Polymutating macro-morphic WHAT?!” ).
The second curious tale from England took place a bit later – in the year 2000 – when we had the nerve to give a presentation-speech at London’s cybersecurity conference Infosecurity Europe. We’d published an announcement, booked the room, and when the time came we waited for the ‘crowds’. And in they flooded: to my speech turned up a full two persons, who turned out to be from Virus Bulletin, which we’d known already for years. Undeterred, I told the couple all about the latest cyber-nastiness, and gave my prognosis of what the cyber-near-future looked like – as if the room had been packed with a 100-strong audience ).
Russians have a saying: ~’The first pancake is always a bit of a blob’. Well that sure is the right saying for that first performance of mine in London. But no one ever says that flipping the first pancake is in vain ). It was experience; a first, necessary step in the right direction – toward serious PR and media work. // Actually, some observers of that first pancake flop reckon the reason the room was practically empty was that we’d booked it around lunchtime: everyone was thinking of their bellies, not about cybersecurity! Learning from mistakes – the following year we chose a more suitable time, and the room was packed – so packed that some folks had to stand along the walls and in the aisles!
Ever since London, my speeches have continued – sometimes in small rooms, sometimes in vast halls, like the one Bosch Connected World took place in in February 2018:
And it goes without saying these speeches spread out geographically, as we did as a company; for cyberfilth is everywhere. And we go where it is, so we’re also everywhere. For example, in the USA…
There’s a funny tale from the RSA conference in San Francisco some time in the 2000s. Now, I don’t much like turning up to the hall for a speech earlier than I have to, preferring to stroll about nearby, turning up at the hall with just minutes to spare (if possible). But this time at RSA, I left it so late that… the security guard wouldn’t let me in! “It’s full!” He thought I must be coming to watch the speaker. “But I am the speaker!”, I told him. After a quick check, he concurred and let me through ).
Another memorable story comes from the Virus Bulletin Conference in 2001. I was invited to give the opening keynote speech to set the tone of the conference. And since such an invitation isn’t received that often, I decided to do something more than just deliver my speech. Something… crazy…
So, together with two colleagues, we put on quite the show: enacting a fun, alternative – computer virus – version of the cult film Back to the Future, featuring Marty McFly, Doc, the time-traveling DeLorean, and a lot more besides. And it went down a storm! The audience was in hysterics till their tummies hurt (I could see them grabbing said tummies:). Curiously, after our keynote speech IT-security-carnival-featuring-an-alternative-history-and-more, Virus Bulletin conference went without keynotes for several years!
Details of our Back to the Future show, btw – here.
As to the biggest audience I’ve ever given a speech to – that was in China, and there’s quite a story to it. It goes like this: The director of our office in China had organized a music concert, inviting some of the top singer-performers in the country. The concert took place in a practically full… Beijing National Stadium – yes: that Olympic stadium with the crazy, totally unique design – the Bird’s Nest (incidentally, one year after the 2008 Beijing Olympics). So, we had a line-up featuring top pop stars, plus a few numbers from none other than Jackie Chan. In short – OMG; and all of it under the banner of our Chinese brand Kabasiji!
Halfway through the proceedings I had to get up onto that there podium in the middle to say a few words – like thanks to everyone for coming or some such – to the 70+ thousand folks in the stands. So I donned the traditional Chinese national jacket, sweated an awful lot, and said my thank-yous. But not quite so ‘neatly’: My largest ever audience – of course there had to be a slip up…
From the get-go I was asked to express my thanks in Russian, and the TV presenter would translate into Chinese (in fact – the translation of my planned speech was all on paper, in her hand). That’s how it all went in during the rehearsal. But then someone said there’d be guests from other countries, so it would be better if I spoke English. I tried to insist on Russian (the Russian ambassador would be there, and he’d have liked that), but they stood firm. So, it came to our 15 30 seconds of fame up on the podium. We’re there, with my and her face up on the large screens. I say ‘thank you’ and a few other words expressing gratitude, and I wait for her translation. But all she does is ask me: “And in Russian?” She hadn’t been told about the format change! Force majeure. Yikes! The words on the paper didn’t match my ad-libbing – in English (or something like that). And there we were just looking at each other, wide eyed, bewildered, both thinking ‘oops’ (to put it mildly, with a PG-rating:). And we carry on like that for what seemed like an eternity! Mercifully, no one seemed to mind as there was that much applause and commotion.
But in the end we sorted it. I eventually say: “Ah – pa-russky?”, and I continued to give the same short speech in Russian. The presenter’s eyes lit up in relief and she proceeded to rapidly ‘translate’ into Chinese. Pheeeew. Done. More smiles to each other, bows, and off we pop: me – back to the VIP stand… to wring out my green jacket!
I guess any other story after that would be a bit of an anti-climax. Yes, a bit; but I’ve still a few more to tell you just yet…
Like the time I was at our Security Analyst Summit (SAS) in Cyprus in 2010: my TV interview there – was in the sea! Not my idea – honest! It was those two German journalists ).
Here’s another TV interview, this time on the beach – in Cancun (where we had three conferences in a row). I wasn’t complaining: beats a stuffy office or conference center ).
Then there are the non-standard situations I sometimes find myself in – and if there’s a camera rollling, well, why not? Like last year – the summer of 2019 – on a boat tour of the Kuril Islands, when I gave interviews to an American group of blogger-documentary makers who were making a film about the Russian Fareast on Seal Island under the overwhelming din made by zillions of guillemot birds.
Then there was the time when I gave a lecture on the Akademik Sergey Vavilov research vessel approaching Antarctica with an international group of modern artists. There was plenty of time to kill, so we’d sing songs of an evening, while during the day we’d share interesting stories. When it came to my turn I first told them assorted tales of the cyber-unexpected, while another time I teased their brains with arithmetic: how to get 2017 with 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9 and 10. The former they were shocked by; the latter – fairly astonished by ).
I know there have been other bizarre settings and situations when it came to my media activity, but I’d need to dig even further into my photo archives. But it turns out I don’t have all the time in the world while locked down – I have actually been very busy. In three months of lockdown I’ve given 10 online interviews to journalists from all over the world, taken part in two press conferences, and spoken at five events, including an Argentinian IT conference attended by 30,000 South Americans – also all sat at home!