Nike is partying in Vegas with hackers

Nike is partying in Vegas with hackers
written by Andrea Peterson

Nike's Black Hat USA after party. (Andrea Peterson/Washington Post)

Nike’s Black Hat USA after party. (Andrea Peterson/Washington Post)

LAS VEGAS — “Can y’all make some noise for Nike?” a DJ shouted across the packed dance floor of a Las Vegas club.

This wasn’t a lavish party for the launch of Nike’s latest sneaker. It was a recruiting event for hackers and cyber security researchers.

In the wake of dire headlines about cyberattacks that have cost retailers millions and nearly crippled Sony Pictures Entertainment last December, corporations are scrambling to amp up their digital security — and competing for the same pool of hotly-pursued talent as the tech industry and government.

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At a recent cybersecurity conference, Black Hat USA, Nike was a visible — and unusual — presence amid companies like Microsoft and Dell. It is not the only one looking for cybersecurity talent: Beverage giant PepsiCo has tempted applicants by noting the outdoor trails on its campus and assuring them that they can leave their business clothes home for a “jeans kind of gig.”

Recent cyber incidents, particularly the Sony hack, have woken up corporate boards to the importance of cybersecurity, said Facebook’s new chief security officer Alex Stamos. “A bunch of companies that never thought they played in the big leagues [of cyber security], have all the sudden realized that they are,” he said.

The pressure to find cyber security experts also comes as many corporations collect more data about their customers or look for ways to take advantage of the consumers’ reliance on technology.

But cybersecurity expertise can be hard to get. The Bureau of Labor Statistics expects demand for information security analysts to be “very high” in the coming years. Even the FBI is unable to recruit the cybersecurity experts it needs, a recent Department of Justice report noted.

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And finding people to help set up programs and think about larger strategy is an even bigger struggle. “There’s a huge need for more cybersecurity management talent,” said Stamos.

Nike, which moved into the fitness tracking arena with its now defunct Fuelband wearable and current mobile app offering, has been particularly aggressive in courting talent.

Earlier this year, Mastercard accused Nike of conspiring to steal cybersecurity employees by pushing two of the credit card company’s top tech managers to break their contracts and join the athletic giant. Nike called the allegations “meritless.”

Nike also has become an active presence at cybersecurity conferences. In March, it sponsored an after party at RSA, a major industry event in San Francisco.

“Nike is changing how athletes connect, how consumers buy, and how employees work,” a Web site advertising that event said. “Every new vision creates a new cybersecurity challenge, and no one takes on a challenge like Nike.”

The company also generated buzz at the Black Hat USA cybersecurity convention last week. Long lines of people snaked around each other at the entrance of the the club, XS at the Wynn Casino and Hotel, where Nike sponsored an after hours party. A bouncer said 7,000 people signed up for the event.

Inside there were an open bar, scantily-clad go-go dancers and Nike branding almost everywhere — from the free sunglasses to their trademarked Swoosh on banners on the bathroom entrances.

On the dance floor, cybersecurity researchers and even government officials showed off their moves to remixes of Nicki Minaj’s “Anaconda,” Taylor Swift’s “Bad Blood” and the “Cupid Shuffle.” Foam dropped from the ceiling at one point, blanketing party-goers like a snow flurry.

“Nike is committed to protecting the data and assets of our customers and employees,” company spokesperson Henry Molina told the Post. “Our presence at Black Hat represents our continued commitment to technology and information security solutions, and our focus on attracting the best talent in the industry.”




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