University of Virginia alumna Theresa Payton, formerly the chief information officer in President George W. Bush’s administration, has found a second act on the small screen.
Payton, who earned a master’s degree in the management of information systems from the McIntire School of Commerce, is one of a crew of cyber sleuths tracking down would-be fugitives on CBS’ new reality television show, “Hunted,” billed as “the world’s most elaborate game of hide-and-go-seek.”
The show, which premiered Jan. 25 and airs on Wednesdays at 8 p.m., follows nine two-person teams attempting to evade capture for 28 days. Payton and her fellow investigators comb the fugitives’ homes, Internet histories, cell phone records, social media accounts and more to find the clues they need to track them down. The teams, who are competing for a grand prize of $250,000, have access to $500 in a bank account and must stay within a designated zone of 100,000 square miles in the southeastern U.S.
Payton, who runs her own cybersecurity firm, is the show’s “deputy commander of intel,” focused on digging up digital intelligence on the contestants and feeding that intelligence to an on-the-ground team of “hunters.” She joins a formidable cast of investigators with experience at organizations like the CIA, FBI, National Security Agency and the U.S. Coast Guard.
Two episodes in, the hunters have already managed to capture three teams in dramatic chases spanning several Southern cities, and they are closing in on several more.
Though it is all for fun, Payton said the competitive “hunters” took their challenge seriously, telling The Washington Post, “We did not want to be outsmarted by anybody.”
Her work on the show – scouring for digital clues and testing cybersecurity weaknesses – is not dissimilar from her day job. Payton is president and chief executive officer of Fortalice Solutions, which tags itself as “a team of cybercrime fighters.” Payton and her colleagues help businesses to identify threats and strengthen their defenses against cyberattacks.
Payton began her career in financial services, focusing on information technology and working her way up to executive roles in organizations like Bank of America and Wachovia. She was named the White House chief information officer – becoming the first woman to hold that position – and oversaw IT operations for the president and his staff.
She has earned numerous recognitions for her service, including being named one of the “Top 25 Most Influential People in Security” by Security Magazine.