Alan Paller, cybersecurity expert and whistleblower, dead at 76

Alan Paller, a longtime whistleblower, cyberattack expert and senior consultant for Symantec, died suddenly Saturday. He was 76.

Paller provided extensive insights into the nature of government spying, the extent of cyber intrusions in the United States and as the cybersecurity firm Dun & Bradstreet’s senior security analyst. He was a regular figure on NPR’s “Morning Edition,” as well as on CNN and Fox.

Paller was the first to raise the issue of cyber intrusions as an area of growing concern and to propose certain policies to combat them. In 2013, Paller warned that China had “handed over seven or eight million U.S. credit card numbers to the NSA.” At the time, the New York Times reported that officials said an end point was in the near, and the U.S. was responding with a program to monitor that country’s government, business and military networks.

Paller’s work and his theories are now very much in the spotlight. President Trump suggested during a news conference Thursday that the National Security Agency’s interception of so-called “cyber communications” — including emails and phone calls — can enable the government to mine data for “facts” that may be pertinent to security issues.

“When you break a number and you break the last four digits of a credit card number, you can get information if you get a FISA [Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act] order that we go after banks,” Trump said.

In a recent video on CBS News, Paller discussed how government agencies are already gathering data from cellphones and other connected devices that are not supposed to be connected to the Internet. He said he believed the NSA uses this information to spy on people and collect intelligence on foreign targets.

“They are listening to your phone calls, reading your emails, even watching what you watch on TV,” Paller said in the video. “If you are just reading off of your cellphone — as I keep doing — and that cellphone is connected to the Internet, you are under surveillance.”

Earlier this week, Paller told CBS News that Congress’ failure to pass laws that would protect Americans from this NSA intrusion leaves the nation unprepared for the next active electronic attack.

Paller worked at Symantec in Boston for 23 years and left that firm in the 1990s. He served on numerous corporate advisory committees, but he gave most of his attention to his research, his podcast and his blog, and he presented seminars across the country at professional organizations.

The Watford, England, native received a bachelor’s degree in philosophy from Queen Mary College and a master’s degree in philosophy from Cambridge University. In 2002, he gave a keynote address at the OSSA security conference in Paris. Paller also wrote a weekly column for PC Magazine.

He is survived by his wife, Joan, and their two daughters, Sadie, 21, and Emily, 24.

Information for this article was contributed by Marwa Eltagouri of The Washington Post.

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