Last year, the crew of CYBERWAR, the VICELAND show about hacking and war, traveled the world to explore the future of hacking and war.
Former Motherboard editor Ben Makuch and the rest of the CYBERWAR team went to Israel, spoke to former NSA hackers, victims of the Ashley Madison hack, and the infamous hacker who's embarrassed and exposed spyware companies, and visited Russia and Ukraine to visit the digital frontlines of what's perhaps the internet's most intense conflict right now
This year CYBERWAR is travelling to more countries—and going back to Russia—to explore the biggest hacking stories of the moment.
You can watch a trailer that teases some of the biggest episodes of the new season above. Season 2 of CYBERWAR airs every Tuesday at 10 pm ET in the US and Canada, starting October 3. The episodes will also be posted online at VICELAND.COM (these will be available only to users in the US and Canada). Here are all the ways to watch VICELAND in the US and in Canada.
While we wait for the new episodes to come out, we caught up with Makuch to talk about what they have in store.
In season one you went to all corners of the globe, where in the world did you guys go this time?
This season we followed exactly what we did in the last season. We found a really interesting story with some sort of conflict between geopolitics and the online landscape of cyberwarfare. We went out and found it, and we didn't care where it was. This season we went to places like Mexico, Pakistan, Estonia, Latvia, Germany, and Russia to get a broad perspective on the things that are going on in other parts of the world that you might not be thinking about. Places like Mexico, where we do an entire episode looking at how cartels interact with the government and how that could influence cyber.
Of course, we did something very obvious too. We went to Russia and investigated what is perhaps the biggest and most influential hack in the history of hacking. And then we went to Pakistan to look at the US government's intelligence operations to find, track, and kill terrorists. Whether it's Al-Qaeda, the Taliban, or even ISIS, we looked at how that entire process goes down. That's something that I think a lot of people are interested in, to really know the fundamentals of how the government tracks these people down. And a big part of it is using signals intelligence [the surveillance of radio, satellite and internet communications] methods so that when a terrorist picks up a cellphone or taps on a keyboard or opens a link on Google Chrome, you can rest assured that there's an operative trying to find where they are, or know what they're doing. But these guys in the Taliban have also figured out ways to evade this.
Without giving away too much, what are the crazier stories or the craziest story you will show the viewers?
We got some pretty unprecedented insights into the DNC hack. And I'm looking forward to dropping that episode so people can see what we found because I'm not sure that a lot of the information that we found out is out there. I'm not sure anyone's gotten closer than us to what happened. I can tell you I'm definitely not eager to go back to Russia after this episode drops.
What what was the biggest challenge you faced in reporting these new episodes?
Like for every other cybersecurity reporter or cybersecurity reporting team, the biggest problem is trying to convince any of these people to go on camera, or even trying to convince them to speak to you on secure chat. This is a difficult process. But luckily my team and I have established a very good reputation within the hacking community, whether it's black hat hackers or the government or everything else in between.
Did you ever think someone was spying or hacking you or your team? Can you talk a little bit about that and what you did to avoid it?
Yeah, definitely. For example in Russia. I had some sort of confirmation that I was being tracked by the [intelligence agency and KGB's heir] FSB for various reasons but I certainly think that they were interested in what I was doing while I was there. What I did to counter that was use all sorts of methods. The biggest one was staying off the internet. Staying offline, using burner phones, sending encrypted emails and stuff like that. The biggest one was keeping a lot of our chats, both among our team and with our sources, completely offline. Everything was done while we were in country, and as limited as possible.
The fact of the matter is that the entire internet telecommunications infrastructure in Russia is owned by the government so it's really difficult to securely communicate with people without taking some serious risks.
There's a lot of different things you can do but if a nation state really wants you and wants your information they're likely going to get it.
You expect that kind of surveillance in Russia, but was there a place that surprised you?
I always knew in Pakistan that the ISI was a very powerful, insidious intelligence agency. but I didn't realize how feared they were in Pakistan. If you said the word ISI it was like saying the name of the boogeyman to people. At one point we found that they wanted to talk to us about what we were doing, they were going to send a representative and then they didn't. And we just assumed at that point that there was clearly a message being sent to us, to kinda watch the fuck out. Interestingly, I took the same precautions I took in Russia, we did almost everything the same way.
What was the most fun story to report on?
Mexico was pretty fun, it was pretty rad. Mexico is a very interesting country and there's a lot of interesting things going on in cyber both on the government and cartel level. And it's not a widely reported issue except for the revelations that just came out in June [when _The New York Times_ and groups of digital rights activists revealed how the Mexican government uses spyware to keep tabs on politicians, human rights activists, and journalists]. It's interesting to see the tentacles of the cartels, the government, and then you add the CIA and how they operate in Mexico. It's a really fascinating country.
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