‘This Is How They Tell Me the World Ends’ wins FT McKinsey prize

03 December 2021 Consultancy.uk 3 min. read
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Cybersecurity journalist Nicole Perlroth has been handed the Business Book of the Year accolade by the Financial Times and McKinsey & Company. Her book, ‘This Is How They Tell Me the World Ends’, sheds light on a mounting digital arms race between the world’s superpowers, each stockpiling software bugs capable of infiltrating essential computer systems of other state actors.

Speaking on the book, Magnus Tyreman, Managing Partner Europe, McKinsey & Company, noted, “Nicole Perlroth has written a book that is more than just a timely wake-up call to the fact that the world has largely ignored the realities and profound implications of the arms race between hackers, cybercriminals and businesses and national governments. It is an alarming book, one in which the author makes a compelling, granular and matter-of-fact case for how vulnerable global computer systems have become, and makes an urgent plea for specific and systematic action.”

Each year, the Financial Times and McKinsey Business Book of the Year Award is presented to the book which is judged to have provided “the most compelling and enjoyable insight into modern business issues”. A statement accompanying Perlroth’s announcement as winner noted that the book “filled with spies, hackers, arms dealers, and a few unsung heroes,” was written “like a thriller and a reference,” making it “an astonishing feat of journalism.”

‘This Is How They Tell Me the World Ends’ wins FT McKinsey prize

Perlroth is no stranger to such commendation, with her award-winning cybersecurity journalism for the New York Times having previously been optioned for both film and television. Based on years of her reporting and hundreds of interviews, the book sees Perlroth lift the curtain on a shadowy market-place, where competing organisations and states are accruing an arsenal of digital weaponry, in a cyber-arms race which has already had wide-ranging implications for global security.

‘This Is How They Tell Me the World Ends’ saw off strong competition from a shortlist of titles, to receive a prize of £30,000. Published by Bloomsbury, its analysis of the threat posed by the arms race between cyber criminals, spies and hackers fighting to infiltrate essential computer systems, centres on ‘zero-day’: a type of software bug which can enable a hacker to break into devices and move around undetected. According to Perlroth’s book, as one of the most coveted tools in a spy's arsenal, a zero-day has the power to silently spy on a mobile device, dismantle safety controls at a nuclear power plant, or even shut down the electric grid.

Much like the archetypal Cold War arms race, initially, the US government became the world's dominant hoarder of zero-days. According to Perlroth’s reporting, government agents there paid millions of dollars-to hackers for their lock-picking codes and their silence. With the rise of other rival actors, however, the US soon lost control of the market, and zero-days are now also in the hands of states the US is engaged in escalating tensions with.

Roula Khalaf, Editor, Financial Times, added, “Nicole Perlroth has done something that hasn't been done before: going this deep into the mysterious world of hackers. Cyber security isn't featuring highly enough on CEOs' agenda. I hope this award will prompt them to read this book and pay attention.”

Khalaf chaired the judging panel for the 2021 Award, which included a host of global business and journalism experts. The full panel consisted of: Mimi Alemayehou, Senior Vice President at Mastercard; Mitchell Baker, CEO of the Mozilla Corporation; Mohamed El-Erian, President, Queens’ College; Herminia Ibarra, Professor at London Business School; James Kondo, Chairman, International House of Japan; Randall Kroszner, Professor at University of Chicago; Raju Narisetti, Leader, Global Publishing, McKinsey & Company; and Shriti Vadera, Chair, Prudential.