The idea I’d originally pitched to my editors was to embed with black hat hackers, the kind increasingly glamorized in pop culture -- "CSI: Cyber," "Scorpion" and other Hollywood productions. Such an arrangement would offer a nose-close view of the cyberspace threats confronting this country. But the legality and safety of such an expedition gave me pause.
Instead, I set out to find a squad of code breakers who use their skills for good. A little networking led to this cybersecurity upstart that was willing to let me hover.
What I saw during outings were not 3-D computer graphics projecting from wall-length display screens or cyber geniuses sprinting around with thumb drives in hand to neutralize infected airplanes.
"Lots of people tell you whatever you want to hear about cyber and how sexy it is,” says Rob Bagnall, the founder of Maverick Cyber Defense. “In the end, it’s ensuring the mission. We are sanitation engineers more than anything else. We’re taking out the trash. When we’re doing it right, it’s mostly not sexy; it’s like being a PI."