Lumina Case Study: Lookout
Lumina started working with mobile security unicorn, Lookout, in March 2020. Just a month later Lookout’s Threat Intelligence Team approached us with a discovery – a big discovery with geopolitical implications. The team had uncovered four Android surveillanceware tools working as elements of much larger mAPT (mobile advanced persistent threat) campaigns originating in China, and primarily targeting the Uyghur ethnic minority.

The timeline suggests the hacking campaign was an early cornerstone in China’s Uighur surveillance efforts that would later extend to collecting blood samples, voice prints, facial scans and other personal data to transform Xinjiang into a virtual police state. It also shows the lengths to which China’s minders were determined to follow Uighurs as they fled China for as many as 15 other countries.

Recognizing the magnitude of the research, the dream of an exclusive with The New York Times was born. But Lumina’s goals and objectives for this caliber of research ranged far beyond the holy grail of press coverage – our coverage needed to be widespread, thoughtful, and impactful.

Around this timeframe the U.S. was beginning to recognize more and more the impact of COVID-19. Lumina shifted operations to fully remote work, as did Lookout. That change compiled with Lumina being new to Lookout’s operations and the need to earn the research team’s trust were critical turning points in the execution of the New York Times exclusive and all other embargo outreach.

The researchers had been working tirelessly on this discovery for nearly a year and as any PR team knows, it is difficult to explain the benefits of exclusive outreach because quantity is often flashier than quality. The researchers were also hesitant to factor in the time it would take to generate a feature exclusive, which we warned would take several weeks of planning and conversations with the New York Times’ key reporters – and this was after we received their interest (which could also take weeks to secure).

Lookout’s biggest concern was getting scooped by another research team but after several conversations, we were able to convince them of our plan and we begin exclusive outreach to the NYT in May. Lumina’s key learnings throughout this exercise were the importance of creating the right media strategy for the outcome the client would like to achieve, while being persistent and transparent.

Interviews began with The New York Times’ Nicole Perlroth and Paul Mozur in June and their exclusive ran on July 1.  A week prior to this, Lumina also conducted embargo outreach out to trusted media contacts so the news could be covered by outside publications once the exclusive rights lifted with the NYT.

Following the original write-up by Nicole Perlroth and Paul Mozur, The New York Times editorial board cited the research in its piece arguing that the president should take more robust actions to pressure China.

The World, a popular program on the widely syndicated radio content network Public Radio International, cited the Lookout research as well. The online version of their segment was syndicated to MSN. Simon Chandler also wrote an article on the topic for Forbes.

The research was also the subject of a feature article from Caitlin McFall of Fox News, as well as a similar piece published in The Times of India.  Caitlin’s article was syndicated to MSN.

Prominent cybersecurity trade publications picked up the story as well. Lindsey O’Donnell published a feature on Threatpost, as did Sean Lyngass of CyberScoop and Nicholas Fearn of Tom’s Guide. In the days immediately following the New York Times piece, more trade publications covered the research, including Bradley Barth with SC Magazine, Maria Henriquez with Security Magazine, Sam Varghese with ITWire, and Catalin Cimpanu with ZDNet, all of whom published feature coverage.

The SilkBean research was also included in a number of newsletters, especially during the first week after its publication. Ravie Lakshmanan referenced it in the Pardon the Intrusion newsletter from The Next WebThe CyberWire included the research in their end-of-week Focus Briefing.

In addition to the highlights listed above, the research was published in numerous other outlets spanning local news stations, targeted online publications, and outlets focusing on industry verticals.