Darknet Diaries review
A bit of a departure from the usual horror fiction and folklore here, for these stories are all real. I can’t really call Darknet Diaries a traditional “true crime” podcast, because although a good portion of the stories are of people who fight crime all over the world, an equal amount are those of criminals. So buckle up with Jack and step into the world of cybercrime, those who commit and combat it. It’s one hell of a ride.
What’s it all about then?
Darknet Diaries is an ongoing bi-weekly podcast, where the host Jack Rhysider interviews a cross section of the heroes and antiheroes of cyber security, hacking, and online fraud. If you don’t know much about this area (as I didn’t), these interviews are almost unbelievable. Want to hear about how people rob banks legally? Or how someone managed to fund a multi-million dollar fake banknote business? Or maybe how a team of people managed to stop a computer virus that had cost global companies billions of dollars. As I said, it’s remarkable and highly gripping stuff.
But is it any good?
Judging by this synopsis, it may sound like the domain of nerds, but the stories are all told in an interesting way with very little technical jargon. It’s this accessibility that really makes this show shine. Since getting into this, I’ve been listening to other shows on similar subjects and they make your head spin with their weird computer tech slang. Don’t get me wrong, there is jargon aplenty here, but Jack usually explains it well enough for you to understand. If you don’t know what “zero days”, “red teams”, “OSINT” or “bad actors” are then you soon will, and you’ll feel like Mr. Robot.
My personal favourites are the stories of “penetration tests”, where security personnel actively try to break into buildings, hack computers and literally rob banks to test security. It’s like the best ingenious crime caper but all legal and (relatively) safe. In the interest of authenticity, not even the police know about these tests, so the security personnel can get arrested for real.
On the flipside from the good guys though are the criminal element. There are really two types of stories here. One is the nation state, government sanctioned hacking groups. These are the people who write viruses, get into powerstations and rob banks. These guys aren’t always Russians, Chinese or North Korean. There’s quite a few stories here of Americans using ingenious ways to disrupt things for hostile nations. I included that last bit because the idea of “good guys” and “bad guys” depends on whose side you’re on.
The other type are the “bedroom hackers”, online scam artists and counterfeiters. These are usually young guys who got into hacking in the early days of the internet, and started out trying to get free stuff, or filling gaps in various markets (fake ID cards for example). One of the mind blowing things that this show uncovers, is the fact that a lot of the criminals interviewed here were all so young when they started. For someone who only learned to write HTML and CSS five or six years ago and still is a code novice, it amazes me that these kids just seemed to understand how to do all this so quickly. Maybe it’s just my old Gen X brain that is too worn out. I mean, just figuring out how to use WordPress to do this blog did my head in!
“I accidentally robbed the wrong bank last time I was in Beirut”Darknet Diaries S1 Ep6
When I was coming up with the name and tagline for this blog, the “ripping yarns” part was specifically about this series. That’s exactly what each episode is. You may find the cocky, hyperactive young men slightly annoying. If that is the case, then the “pen test” stories will definitely be more your wheelhouse.
While I prefer the latter, there is something about the former that is compelling. Some kid starts selling fake IDs to his classmates, ends up doing so well he outsourced that to China. While doing this, he was also admin of a dark web marketplace selling vast amounts of drugs to people online. I don’t think there’s a single story where the criminals didn’t get completely out of their depth, mainly through greed and vast egos.
Some of the stories are very dark too. There have been two recent episodes that are similar (so similar in fact I thought that there had been a mistake in the uploads). These stories are about the lengths some people will go to to get their hands on unique usernames for social media. I can’t imagine how the victims coped with such harassment from anonymous people online, but it must have been a living nightmare. It is also a sobering alternative to the edge of the seat tales that are the main meat of this series.
Anyway, this is a brilliant podcast and one of the few I actually look forward to new episodes of. A new episode automatically gets played, even if I’m halfway through something else.
You can find Darknet Diaries here: