Jack Rhysider’s Darknet Diaries delivers true stories of cybercrime


Jack Rhysider’s Darknet Diaries delivers true stories of cybercrime

Podcast shines a light on the dark corners of the Internet

David Braue

Melbourne, Australia – November 2, 2023

For all the mainstream media attention on cybersecurity breaches when they occur, within weeks the stories have often been lost in the noise of other breaches – with little follow-up on what happened, who instigated the violations and what were the consequences.

The desire to fill this gap proved to be a win-win for Jack Rhysiderincluding the podcast series Darknet logs has recorded 22.9 million downloads in 2022 – with around 400,000 listeners tuning in to what has become more than 130 episodes exploring the sordid underbelly of the internet.

Rather than ruminating on hacks and incidents as they happen, self-described “slow news junkie” Rhysider has taken a very different approach – he calls it “real crime meets cybercrime” – in which he works backwards from the conclusion of the story, as when a hacker is sentenced to prison, to paint a rich narrative of what really happened.

“When the latest cybersecurity news comes out, I don’t like reading it, because we all have more questions,” the former security engineer – who built a career configuring firewalls and security systems intrusion detection, securing corporate network perimeters and analyzing security logs – told Cybercrime Magazine.

Cybercrime Radio: Real Crime Meets Cybercrime

The mysterious things

“I like to wait until the story is 3, 4, 5 years old, and then we go back and now we have all the answers,” he explained, adding that “I’m making the show for myself, so I launches into the stories that I find to be the most interesting and satisfying.

At this point, “we found the person who did it, we found out the full implications of what happened: what software was at fault at this company, what happened to them. It takes years to figure out all these things – and I’m taking this whole soup-to-nuts thing and putting it in podcast form.

Although it uses the term “darknet” in its title, the podcast covers all kinds of security issues and events, on and off the dark web. “I took this idea of ​​what the dark parts of the Internet are, the things that are hidden and you don’t know about,” he explained, “and that’s where I focus: the mysterious things.”

Digging in the dark

Since he launched the podcast in 2017, Rhysider’s behind-the-scenes focus on cybercrime has given him the opportunity to speak with and about a wide range of characters, from seasoned cybercriminals has Citizen Lab investigators, Xbox hackers has journalists, PABX hackers has malicious system administrators.

The heavily produced episodes – which include moody music, bespoke graphics, and Rhysider’s campfire narrative voice assembled by a strong supporting cast – are designed to harness Rhysider’s enthusiasm for the subjects, as he had met a friend at school. a bar and wants to share a story I heard about an amazing hack or something.

However, achieving this takes time and effort. Finding guests to appear on the podcast takes “a lot of tapping on the shoulder” and isn’t always easy, as most people operating in the shadows of the Internet do it precisely because they don’t want to make known.

“By design, it’s very difficult to get people talking about my show,” he explains, “and that’s the way I like it.” This is how things are supposed to be, as we get these hard-to-find guests and bring them in – and that creates quite a feeling in itself. It becomes quite an experience to hear some of these guests.

At first, it was “kind of strange” to address a convicted cybercriminal about the “worst day of his life,” Rhysider said, “but the guests appreciate how I really try to understand their motivation and to not just tell them ‘you’re stupid for doing that.’

Guests, he said, are often happy to have the opportunity to share their side of the story while the media typically focuses on breathless reporting on the financial and operational damage caused during a attack.

“Once we got through all that, they say ‘it was amazing (because) no one ever asked me how I felt about all that, and no one cared to listen to my story with so many details before’…. it was like a therapy session.

Truth and consequences

However, rather than simply acting as a spokesperson for criminals, Rhysider – who claims to be “allergic” to “any allusion to conspiracy theory” – has pledged to approach his podcasts with an eye on the truth.

This means taking a “journalistic” approach that includes digging behind the headlines through in-depth research and analysis of primary sources such as court transcripts and police reports.

“Over the last decade, the truth has become so unclear,” he said. “If we can all agree that this is the real thing that’s happening, we can solve all the other problems – but because the truth is so murky and fuzzy, we’ll never all be together to solve these other problems.”

In building what is often an hour-long podcast around a detailed account of the truth about past cyber incidents, Rhysider said a key measure of the success of his truth-telling is building that “legacy of this guy is coming and we can have confidence.” that what he says is true, because he backs it up with court transcripts and calls people’s friends and family to verify that these stories are true.

The feedback was strong and had some pleasant surprises, Rhysider said, like when he heard from listeners who loved the podcast so much that they decided to give up their careers and retrain in the broadcast industry. cybersecurity – or reports that even NSA cyber teams are being asked to use the episodes in their training.

Ultimately, auditors should, Rhysider said, come away with the feeling that he is “doing due diligence in every way possible to make the information as accurate as possible…. It creates a trust and a legacy of people who believe in it and follow it.

“You don’t want to be rough around the edges; you want it to be very clean, so it will stand the test of time. And that’s why I’m here for the long term.

David Braue is an award-winning technology writer based in Melbourne, Australia.

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