Nearly everything we do now likely has some online component. From online shopping, to social media apps, to email communications, you’ve never been more vulnerable to getting hacker or cyber attacks. It seems every week the news is highlighting the latest in cyber attacks including major brands getting hacked, international cyber warfare, upcoming Game of Thrones episodes leaked, or the latest in viral phishing schemes. We all know we need to better protect ourselves, but how? That’s where Malicious Life helps fit in. Malicious Life is a narrative style podcast on hacking and cyber criminals.
Though Malicious Life isn’t your typical how-to or tips podcast, part of better protecting yourself online is learning the history behind some of the most infamous attacks, the holes they exploiting, and how they were caught. Spreading awareness and general knowledge is the first step to increasing your digital security — not to mention you’re doing so in a highly entertaining way. Think Criminal but for cyber crime.
Malicious Life is hosted by Ran Levi, an renowned author and expert on cyber warfare. He’s also typically joined hackers themselves and other industry experts adding additional context to the narrative format. I was fortunate to get a chance to speak with both Ran and co-producer, Eliad Kimhy, about their podcast, what the average person can do to better protect themselves from cyber criminals, and future stories they’re looking forward to sharing. Below is our Q&A.
Discover Pods: What’s your podcast about?
Eliad: A Serial-like view of the evolution and most thrilling stories of cyber security and crime. Wars are being fought on computers; games of cat and mouse between cyber robbers and special agents. We tell these stories, from the earliest to the latest, we ask- who invented the first virus, and why? What motivates these cybercriminals? How did this culture evolve? Malicious Life tells tales of technological leaps run amok, but also of deeply human stories.
DP: Why do people listen? What’s unique about it?
Eliad: Ran is the author of 3 books on the history of cyber warfare, I work at a cybersecurity company, and practically surrounded by hackers. We have a unique combination of access, knowledge, technical ability, and most importantly, passion, to really bring these all but forgotten stories to life.
DP: Why did you choose to podcast to tell this story rather than another format?
Eliad: These are deeply researched stories, and can sometimes take time to unfold. A podcast is a great medium for this type of storytelling. Plus, Ran has an amazing voice, so it works.
From my perspective, narrative podcasts work especially well on an audio-only format. Is there a particular reason you chose to podcast rather than a YouTube series or blog?
Ran: Video has its merits, naturally – but Audio shares one crucial characteristic with books, and that is Imagination. When listening to a well-crafted story, the listener builds a whole ‘theater stage’ in his/her mind, and the story comes alive in a way that is very hard to replicate with Video unless you have an extremely large budget. I actually started my career in media as a book author, so I very much appreciate this advantage.
DP: As we as a society grow more dependent on technology and digital touchpoints, we become more susceptible to hackers. Are there a few easy things everyday people can do to better protect themselves?
Ran: That’s a great question – one that I think people like me, who are more ‘technically oriented’, tend to miss. Most techies focus on Anti-Virus tools, Firewalls, etc. (which are very important by themselves, of course) – but what we should focus on, IMO, is Digital Hygiene. By that I mean – teaching the population how to stay safe in a digital world, much as we learn to wash our hands before eating, etc. In the digital world, that would entail learning what to share and what not to, what links should not be clicked, etc. This behavior, by itself, will allow people to evade most of the dangers, just as by washing our hands we reduce the risk of disease.
DP: What are some cyber crime stories you’re excited to talk about? Anything related to the dark web or the Silk Road?
Ran: So many stories to choose from! My favorite is probably the one about The Dark Avenger (which was our 2nd episode). The DA was a Bulgarian hacker who wrote some the nastiest viruses on the early 90’s (really nasty stuff, very damaging) – and developed some interesting relationships with a Bulgarian security researcher who was kind of his ‘arch-enemy’, and an American social worker (female) who was the only person he opened up to. Some real-life-movie-drama there.
DP: What’s your favorite podcast?
Ran: Tough question! I’d say Hardcore History, with Dan Carlin. I enjoy it both as a history geek and as a storyteller: I learned a lot from Dan’s ability to craft a fascinating historical narrative – almost without any use of sound effects and other ‘gimmicky’ techniques.
DP: Anything else you’d like to add?
Ran: On the surface, Information Security might seem like a very technical subject matter – but actually, it is full of drama and fascinating human stories, much like other types of criminal activity over the centuries… after all, for a malicious hacker the malware is nothing more than a tool: a modern substitute for a gun in the hands of a bank robber, if you will. My goal is to help the audience uncover those fascinating stories and peel away the more ‘technical’ layers masking it.
DP: Where can people listen?