Dallas reporter Jake Bleiberg and two members of AP‘s cybersecurity team, Washington-based national security reporter Eric Tucker and video journalist Nathan Ellgren, delivered a rare and compelling multiformat account of what it’s like to experience a ransomware attack, telling the behind-the-scenes story of a 2019 Texas breach that was a harbinger of what has since exploded into a major national security threat.
The team broke news with their account of the attack on cities and towns by the same gang that two years later would target the world’s largest meat processor. They reviewed thousands of pages of documents obtained through Freedom of Information Act requests to nearly two dozen Texas communities and conducted exhaustive interviews with about 20 current and former officials, seeking to paint a picture of the precise moment government officials learned of the attack and exactly how they responded. They reported previously unknown details of the attacks, revealing that one city had to operate its water supply system manually and that an Air Force base endured disruptions in its access to a state database that facilitates background checks on visitors.
Ransomware stories are difficult to tell visually, but video journalist Ellgren worked with colleagues to track down material for a widely seen video piece. The package received stellar play in Texas and beyond, with remarkable scores for reader engagement and pageviews.