What would Sherlock Holmes think of the hit CBS reality show Hunted?
It has all of the classic detective story elements, and the sleuths meticulously analyze all of the clues. Of course, they are using more than a magnifying glass. In fact, as head of intelligence for the command center on Hunted, Theresa Major Payton ’89 utilizes advanced technological tools in her quest to catch the TV fugitives. She leads a team of cybersecurity experts in tracking down the nine teams who are on-the-run across 100,000 square miles of the southeastern United States. The prize for outwitting the professional hunters is $250,000.
Although the tension and atmosphere are the same as any cyber case she has worked on, Payton notes one huge difference. For the sanity and well-being of the TV fugitives—everyday people who auditioned for the show—the producers required that the staff of the command center follow certain rules so that the fugitives were allowed to rest.
“The fugitives were afraid, some of them were out in the elements, on-the-go, and when [the producers] told them to go ahead and bed down for the night, they didn’t want them paranoid that we would storm their tent,” Payton explains.
Once the command center staff were given permission to resume the hunt, it became a normal working day. The team grew very close during the 30 days of production for the first season. Payton acknowledges that two of her Hunted co-stars, Charles DeBarber and Landon Stewart, who served as cyber analysts, also work for her company Fortalice Solutions, a cybersecurity firm.
Hunted started as a reality show in the United Kingdom under the same name and has been renewed for a third season in the U.K. The format is the same for the U.S. version. The production company, Endemol Shine, found that the American Southeast, equivalent to the size of “four Irelands,” provided the fugitives perfect hideouts that included beaches, rivers, swamps, and hilly terrain.
Payton reveals that Hunted is not scripted, although the producers reminded the command center to not use jargon on camera, such as “LPR” for “license plate reader.” As another accommodation to the TV audience, the hunters needed to say out loud what they were doing and thinking. Typically, Payton jokes, her staff at Fortalice work with headphones on all day, which would be incredibly boring to viewers at home.
Analyzing the skills of the non-professional fugitives, Payton says that they have one thing in their favor: no criminal record, which typically includes an extensive profile on that individual. For the show, Payton and her team received only one photo, the person’s first and last name, date of birth, and last known address. Even the alerts announcing an ATM withdrawal by the TV fugitives were not automatic or instantaneous. By the time the command center received an alert and dispatched one of the nine patrol cars, the fugitives could be long gone.
When casting began for the professionals to run the command center, Payton was recommended by several experts in the field. She certainly had the expertise, based on her time serving as the first female Chief Information Officer for the White House, and founding Fortalice Solutions. She acknowledges that as a student of Immaculata during the late ’80s, she did not envision a career in cybersecurity. She graduated with a double major in Economics and Business Administration with a certification in computers.
“I believe that with my career path and career choices, I have been uniquely formed, uniquely trained and uniquely led,” she states. She confesses that she is where she is today because she has learned to trust God more. In the past, she would question why things were so difficult before re-examining and concluding that she needed to take another path.
“I feel incredibly blessed,” Payton says of her life and her choice to attend Immaculata. Although she had not originally considered enrolling at the all-women’s college, Payton’s mom was a graduate of the night school (now called the College of LifeLong Learning) and had such a positive experience that she encouraged her daughter to at least tour the campus and apply for a scholarship—and so she did. Then she made a pledge to herself and God: she would attend the college that gave her the best scholarship. When the letter from Immaculata came through with the best financial offer, Payton fondly recalls thinking, “Really? Really, God?”
Besides the fine education she received from professors such as Sister Maria Christie, IHM, and Sister Ann Coyle, IHM, Payton is extremely close to many of her classmates, and they all still get together frequently and group text at least once a week. After spending four years with these friends—years where they made so many important decisions about choosing the right husband, applying for jobs, what to wear to the all-important interview, and picking next semester’s classes—Payton cannot overemphasize how influential these women have been, and continue to be, in her life.
When Hunted premiered, Payton threw screening parties at both of the Fortalice locations in North Carolina and Washington, D.C. The D.C. party was filled with her friends from Immaculata University and crew from the command center, with whom she has remained friends as well.
Asked to rate her experience on Hunted, Payton enthusiastically said “a 10.” As a member of the advisory board for Immaculata University’s Cybersecurity major, Payton is an advocate for the cybersecurity field and believes it would be an excellent job for many college graduates. “We need more great people in all aspects of cybersecurity,” she notes.
What would students learn if Payton taught a cybersecurity class?
“The internet never forgets!”
Top 5 Cyber Safety Tips
Information provided by Fortalice Solutions
- Hide or Segment Your Wi-Fi—Hiding your Wi-Fi makes it harder for hackers to gain access to your business or home Wi-Fi. You can work with your internet provider to hide your Wi-Fi. Also, segment data to different Wi-Fi networks so that your Internet of Things devices are put on one network, separate from other networks that have sensitive company or personal data.
- Protect Yourself When Traveling—Consider getting a “burner phone” (a disposable, pre-paid cell phone) and email when you travel internationally. Make sure you are not accessing company information overseas, and only operate on that burner phone and email.
- Use the Right Tools—Use a virtual private network (VPN) when accessing free Wi-Fi at a hotel or restaurant. This provides an extra layer of security when using an unknown network. Use encrypted apps like Proton Mail or Signal Private Messenger to communicate confidentially and securely.
- Segregate Your Email—Use different email addresses to access different areas online. Use one email for financial information, one for online shopping, and one for browsing. This provides extra protection for your information and makes it harder for adversaries to ever get all your information at once.
- Keep Your Cell Phone Number Private—Consider signing up for a free Google Voice number and only give that number out when doing business or shopping. Have that number printed on your business cards instead of your personal cell phone. Only give your personal number to trusted friends and colleagues.