Interview with JJ Worrall (@johnjoeworrall), freelance journalist for The Irish Times and others

March 28, 2013

By @Rose_at_O, @Olivia_at_O

JJ Worrall (@johnjoeworrall) is a freelance writer and editor who covers IT security for publications including The Irish Times, The Sunday Business Post and ComputerScope

JJ Worrall

Q.  Tell us a bit about yourself. 

I’m a freelance writer for a number of newspapers and magazines. I’m based in Dublin and currently my right foot is four times the size of my left after I twisted it playing five-a-side football. That’s me in a nutshell.

Q. Tell us a little bit about the titles you write for and their interest in data security. 

I write for The Irish Times, Sunday Business Post and ComputerScope in the main, alongside a number of other print and online titles. Each will regularly include features that have a security focus of some kind. The Business Post’s “Computers in Business” supplement has a monthly “security watch” feature for instance, while the Times will cover cybersecurity, data privacy and related subjects almost every week. ComputerScope is aimed at IT professionals and there’s always news or features on security trends as well as new products or services related to the space.

Q. What’s hot in IT security this year? 

Mobility. No matter what element of security you’re talking to an expert about, nine times out of ten they’ll bring up how security affects the mobile space. You can understand it as lots of security companies are still just beginning to create decent app-level security.  Over the next year I’d imagine the bigger players will try to gobble up any worthwhile independently created mobile solutions to try and remain ahead of the game.

Q. How many security events do you attend each year? 

In Dublin you might only have nine or ten events that are really newsworthy from a security standpoint in a year. After that, there are usually a few trips abroad for announcements or conferences each year.

Q. What types of stories or companies are likely to attract your attention this year? 

Fraud is a particularly interesting area this year I think – the banking industry, organisations like the Merchant Rick Council and others are sharing a bit more information on just how much of it goes on online and what it’s costing them. There could be some kind of “big bang” incident in that area this year but it’s just a guess.

Q. How many interviews do you do per week?

Anywhere from two to 20, depending on the articles I’m writing, how close I am to deadline and how many free minutes I have left on my mobile bill.

Q. What’s the best way to pitch a story to you?

I’d say generally email as it gives you a bit of time to digest it, most phone calls with a pitch tend to end with the line “I’ll send you the email anyway and you can have a look,” so I think that pretty much answers that question. Though if something is obviously newsworthy and there’s only a short window to get it done, then a conversation by phone is the best way forward instead of pinging emails or tweets back and forth.

Q. What’s your favourite blog?

Bit of a cheat but it’s the LA Times tech blog rather than any impoverished security blogger – great mix of news, light-hearted stuff and general ramblings. Also, if any tech companies are looking into what they should be doing for a security blog, the NakedSecurity one from Sophos is definitely worth a look. Nice design, good articles and experts able to translate the message into something any reader can understand.

Q. What is your favourite piece of technology?

My laptop – it’s the piece of technology I use the most, and unlike my phone it doesn’t have any “endearing” quirks like taking a screenshot any time I press the home button or running out of battery life after three phone calls. It’s certainly not state-of-the-art, but I’d also say my car: a 1995 Ferrari red VW Polo that is almost always on the verge of breaking down. Yes, there’s a smell of football boots, yes there’s a tape-deck instead of a CD player, yes there’s no power steering but I have far more affection for it than I could ever have for a shiny new gadget. Something more advanced? Eh… those dancing Coke cans from a few years (decades) back were also great.

Q. What do you think is the most important development in IT security to date? 

I was at a really interesting talk earlier this year where a representative from Hacking Team was defending the company’s work. Essentially they create “offensive” (in the American football sense, not in the Mary Whitehouse sense) technology which allows police forces, governments, private companies, but also perhaps questionable regimes to target their adversaries with hacking attacks. I think it’s interesting that security technologies could become an arms race to a certain degree where you have companies developing technology that could be used by a disreputable government. However, the company in question can claim innocence because they “only sold” the technology to a client. It’s a murky area, and one that’s definitely not as black and white as some of the human rights activists who were at the talk made it sound either. As security software gets better it will be used for all sorts of purposes. That’s an important development I think – that we’ve now come to the stage where security companies can create products that can have either a hugely positive or enormously negative impact on the wider world.

Q. What was the best press trip you’ve ever been on? Worst? Why?

The RSA Conference is always great as you’re in the middle of San Francisco and it’s an amazing place. A few years back I also managed to head over to Nashville to interview Tim Wheeler from Ash for State.ie. It was followed by a tour of the Jack Daniels distillery that ended with a whiskey tasting, a free bottle of their 1954 Gold Medal Blend and a watching a gig with Wheeler, Róisín Murphy and Hugh Cornwell from The Stranglers. (Puts on best Fast Show voice) Which was nice.

The worst… well, I got free tickets to see Ireland getting thrashed 6-1 by Germany last October, which wasn’t exactly ideal. First world problems eh.

Q. What’s your favourite restaurant?

Ristorante Le Chat Noir in Cefalu, Sicily. Started an amazing holiday there and have never tasted better mussels in my life.

Q. Tell us something no one knows about you.

It has taken me so long to get around to finishing these questions that my right foot is now only three times the size of the left. Onwards and upwards.

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