How easy is it to carry out a cyber attack? An interview with Geoff Siskind of the Hackable? podcast

How easy is it to carry out a cyber attack? A new podcast, Hackable?, produced by McAfee Security, aims to find out.

Hackable?, which is currently one of the top podcasts on iTunes, does a deep dive into cyber security, exploring how cyber attacks work and what makes them successful. Each episode takes topics which you may have heard about in the news or seen on TV and puts them to the test by exploring just how easy is it for cyber criminals to carry out these attacks. It’s often the case that it is remarkably simple.

We spoke with the show’s producer, Geoff Siskind, about the importance of cyber security and found out just how easy is it to carry out a cyber attack

What did you learn about cyber security from producing this series?

Producing Hackable? has certainly opened my eyes to just how easy it is to steal anything and everything that’s done online. I’ve ended up being the human guinea pig for most of the hacks that we’ve done on the show, which has given me a very dangerous front row seat for the whole thing. Each episode we take an example of a cyber threat that we’re familiar with from movies or television and put it to the test it to see if it’s really worth losing sleep over. Sadly, what I’ve discovered is that for the most part it is. I have become the poster boy for paranoia! It’s a creepy way to go through life but that’s where I’m at.

How did your own thoughts on cyber security evolve during the process of producing this podcast?

I always knew that I had to be careful online, but I never knew the extent of it. As someone who spends most of his working life on a connected device, it’s tough to separate the paranoid myths from the facts. But what I’m learning from the show is that there is a lot more truth to the myths than I feel comfortable with. I’m definitely more careful now with what I do online but, like everyone else, I haven’t stopped living online, it’s just made me suspicious of everything.

One of the stories from the first episode was about how easy it was to hack into a public cafe’s wifi network. Did it surprise you that it was as easy as it was?

It totally shocked me with how easy it was! There’s a mobile carrier in America that has wifi hotspots scattered around the country that people can access. And if you are on that carrier and your device senses a hotspot then you automatically connect to it, often without really noticing that you’ve switched to that wifi network. Bruce Snell, our cyber security expert, set up a fake version of one of those wifi networks and within an hour hundreds of people had unknowingly connected to it. It wasn’t just the number of people that surprised me, it was the type of information that he was able to “skim” from those users. Not only was he able to see every image that people downloaded, but he was also able to capture usernames and passwords. Thankfully, Bruce is a nice guy so he didn’t do anything with all the information that he gleaned, but if he had an evil streak, he could have done some serious damage.

A quote which stood out for me from the first episode was ‘I think it’s underexposed. I think there’s probably a lot more hacking going on than people realize.’ Based on your experiences producing this show, do you think most of us aren’t aware just how much hacking is going on?

Sadly, I think that’s probably true. For someone who has the skills, my feeling is that it’s fairly easy to do. I think the good news is that just because you’ve been hacked doesn’t mean that anyone will necessarily do anything with your information. The scary thing for me, though, is the knowledge that if someone really wanted to do something with your hacked information, it wouldn’t be all that difficult.

The podcast is currently #1 on the iTunes trending charts and barely a day goes by when there isn’t a story in the news about cyber security. Why do think this topic is so prevalent right now?

There is a tremendous amount of coverage about hacking right now, and my sense is that for some people (including me) it’s all feeling a little overwhelming. My normal response is just to bury my head in the sand and try and block it all out, just pretend that it’s not really happening. Our hope with Hackable? is that not only can we separate fact from fiction but, when the threats are real, we also try to get some concrete advice on what we can do to combat them. Ultimately, I hope that is what people are connecting with on the podcast. If people are worrying about hacking, hopefully we’re here to help prove whether it’s actually worth losing sleep over or not!


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