Portrait of Billy O’Brien, News Corp’s chief information security officer, Richmond alum

Keeping a watchful eye

August 28, 2023


National headlines trumpeted the criminal escapades of Kevin Mitnick in the early 1990s. The notorious computer hacker landed on the FBI’s most wanted list, yet eluded capture for two-and-a-half years before being arrested in February 1995.

As a high school student, Billy O’Brien was fascinated by Mitnick’s story and wondered how he could enter the emerging field of cybersecurity.

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

“This is the career I’ve always wanted,” O’Brien 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.

“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,” said O’Brien, a 2001 Jepson School of Leadership Studies graduate. "Cybersecurity is a team sport — we win or lose as a team, and we have to win.”

Teamwork is especially critical during crises, he said. As an example, he referred to a 2022 cyberattack waged against News Corp. O’Brien couldn’t comment on specifics, but public reporting has assessed those behind the attack had a connection to China 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 enemies,” 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, 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.”