Ubiquiti Networks, a network-equipment maker, is suing journalist Brian Krebs for defamation over his coverage of a data breach which was eventually revealed to be the work of a company insider. Ubiquiti initially disclosed a data breach, telling customers that the breach was minor and had occurred at a "third-party cloud provider." But Krebs reported that an unidentified whistleblower told him the data breach was worse than Ubiquiti had said. Ubiquiti's lawsuit claims that these articles published by Krebs and others caused Ubiquiti's market cap to drop by $4 billion.
Ubiquiti is a publicly-traded company that designs and sells networking products to businesses and consumers. On January 11, 2021, Ubiquiti disclosed that it had been the victim of a data breach. In a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), Ubiquiti said that the breach had occurred at a "third-party cloud provider" and that it was minimal in scope.
But on March 30, 2021, journalist Brian Krebs published an article alleging that an unidentified whistleblower had told him the data breach was worse than Ubiquiti had initially said. The next day, Krebs' story was corroborated by other journalists, and Ubiquiti's stock price plummeted as a result.
Ubiquiti Networks has now filed a defamation lawsuit against Brian Krebs, alleging that his articles caused the company's stock price to drop by $4 billion. Ubiquiti is seeking compensatory and punitive damages from Krebs, as well as a public retraction of his stories. In a statement, Ubiquiti said that Krebs' "false and defamatory statements" had caused it "substantial harm."
Krebs has responded to the lawsuit by saying that he will fight it "vigorously." He added that Ubiquiti's decision to sue him was an attempt to "silence critical reporting on the company."
This lawsuit is just the latest in a series of disputes between Ubiquiti and Krebs. In 2017, Ubiquiti unsuccessfully sued Krebs for defamation after he published an article alleging that the company was engaged in "shady business practices."
What does this mean for journalism?
With Ubiquiti's lawsuit against Brian Krebs, we are seeing yet another example of a company trying to silence critical reporting with a defamation suit. This trend is worrisome, as it could have a chilling effect on investigative journalism.
As Krebs himself has said, "this kind of legal intimidation, unfortunately, works all too well to stifle critical reporting." It will be interesting to see how the court rules in this case and whether it sets a precedent for future cases involving defamation suits against journalists.
We've seen similar issues in the past. The most noticeable in recent memory was the response to coverage of Nikola's misleading video showing their autonomous truck driving. In reality, the truck was unable to drive on its own and the video actually showed the truck driving downhill with the camera shifted. Nikola used DMCA takedown notices to remove any content critical of the deception claiming that the video was being used illegally.
Obviously, fear tactics have always been used against reporters. However, freedom of the press, at least in the US, should protect them against cases like this. We'll see how the case progresses once it is sitting in front of a judge.