The Hacker Chronicles

Inside the Hack: Midseason Aftershow with the Creators of The Hacker Chronicles

Episode Summary

We hope you’ve enjoyed the first seven episodes of The Hacker Chronicles! Stay tuned for the next five episodes – all leading up to a thrilling season finale. We know you’ve been waiting patiently to hear the rest of the season, and we’re excited to share that new episodes will be released this July. But while you wait, we wanted to give you a look behind the scenes at how The Hacker Chronicles was made.

Episode Notes

We hope you’ve enjoyed the first seven episodes of The Hacker Chronicles! Stay tuned for the next five episodes – all leading up to a thrilling season finale.

We know you’ve been waiting patiently to hear the rest of the season, and we’re excited to share that new episodes will be released this July.

But while you wait, we wanted to give you a look behind the scenes at how The Hacker Chronicles was made. Caspian Studios CEO and series executive producer Ian Faison leads a roundtable with Jérôme Robert, Tenable’s Senior Marketing Director and the creator of The Hacker Chronicles, Skyler Schmanski, the Head of the Marketing Innovation Lab at Tenable and the author of The Hacker Chronicles novella; and Caspian’s Rex New, who adapted the series for audio.

They’ll break down why a cybersecurity firm decided to create an audio drama, the authenticity of the show, and what’s coming next for the series.

If you want to learn why and how the cybersecurity teams at Tenable transformed cyber reality into podcast fiction, check out

Learn more about Caspian Studios at

Episode Transcription

Ian Faison: Welcome to the mid season after show with the creators of the hacker Chronicles. We have five episodes left. Alice just asked for $350,000. Things are about to get crazy. And the series got green lit for season two. So we figured before the next episode comes out, we just wanted to take a quick few minutes here and talk about what's happening in the show.

Why the team created this in the first place. And we got the show creators with us today. So let's start off with Jer. Tell us a little bit about yourself. Sure. Hi Ian. Thank 

Jérôme Robert: you. Well, I'm a security professional. Obviously I've done that. This is the only thing I've done really in my life for the last 15, 16 years.

I've been working in cybersecurity vendors, editors, service providers, my whole life. I'm definitely passionate about that. And here I am like venturing into, into new grounds with, with podcast. 

Ian Faison: Yeah, venturing into the unknown. And one day you woke up and said, you want to tell a, uh, a cyber crime thriller, but we'll, we'll get into that in a second.

And Skylar, tell us a little bit about 

Skyler Schmanski: yourself. You bet. I'm Skyler the head of the marketing innovation lab here at tenable. My history isn't quite as extensive as Jeromes, but I have worked with quite a few hyper growth tech startups companies. And now at one of the worldwide leaders in cybersecurity, tenable as a side project, I am the author of the hacker Chronicles book that we have transformed into a podcast series for our lovely listeners, 

Ian Faison: all around the world and Rex.

Rex New: What about you? Yeah, my name's Rex, I'm a writer here at Caspian studios and I adapted the, uh, novel for audio as they say. So writing the words that, uh, along with Ian every once in a while. So writing the words that our, our characters 

Ian Faison: are saying. I me and Faison, I'm an executive producer of the show. And I just wanna stay off the top here.

Like thank you so much to all the listeners for joining us along for the ride. It's got incredibly popular quickly, and we're only halfway done with the show a little, a little over halfway done. We're so thankful to all of you for listening and telling friends and all thats. Stuff. And so for this little mini episode in between kind of like an after show that you'd see on a TV show, we just wanted to talk with, uh, Jerome, Skyler, and Rex about why the team at tenable decided to make the show a little bit behind the scenes of how we make the show and some of our favorite stuff.

So let's start off with a quick recap of the story. So the start of our story, we have a, a, a down and out barista. We meet Alice she's in a job that she clearly doesn't like, she's working at a coffee shop. She gets fired from her job. She has a, an audition that goes horribly awry. She's a aspiring pianist, and it seems like everything is just not going well.

She has a mountain of student debt hanging over her head. She has a very odd and eccentric roommate. Who we aren't really sure how they get along at all or how they even found each other. And she's just not very happy with her life. And she just doesn't know what is gonna come next. And she doesn't know where her next paycheck is gonna come from.

And, and she has this slight tiny background in technology where she minored in engineering in college. So we have this person who. Doesn't really know what to do next. And she has two friends who we just know her internet, friends that we come to know very well, Jeanie and, and Falcon, and Jeanie says, Hey, have you ever looked into cybersecurity?

And so thus Alice tumbles down, uh, the rabbit hole and discovers a world of cyber security. She learns about the dark web. She does a bunch of research. She talks to her friend. She decides to. Go in on this idea of doing her first cyber crime and things get really crazy from there. And so we end where we're at right now after episode seven, where she's finally asked for $350,000, she's completed a series of hacks, which we'll get into, we're gonna do a webinar or we detail those hacks and how realistic they are and all that stuff later with tenable.

But she. Got some success she's finally asked for money and, and that's kind of where we sit right now. So I'm curious, Jerome, this person, Alice, this topic, this wannabe hacker, like why did you decide to create this show? 

Jérôme Robert: I think there's a combination of factors we've been working in cybersecurity for a few years now with, with Skyler, we've tried a lot of tactics to promote cybersecurity, to engage with our communities and tried to pass down some of our knowledge what we're saying.

And it's a shame. What we're saying is that. Cybersecurity deserves to be cool. Right? It's a nice industry. It's a nice activity. There's many things going on. And what we are saying is that. We think poorly advertised. Like we all have the same views and misconceptions sometimes about hackers. They all look the same.

And we wanted to give people a accurate, I'd say real life kind of glimpse into the lives of hackers who could be a hacker. Are they really super evil, bad people? Are they closer to us than we think. Both geographically and, and, and from a moral perspective. And so we thought, okay, we have an opportunity to actually do something different.

We are lucky enough to work in a, a great company at 10. That gives us a lot of, a lot of freedom of action there, because it's not an easy pitch. Like when you come to your bus and you say, you know what? We'd like to. Write a book or a podcast about hackers with more of an empathetic look at them at what they're doing well, when you are a cybersecurity company and you are spending your days fighting cyber crime, it's not that easy to sell internally, but yeah, they saw the value that people could get from the show.

As a series of lessons of cybersecurity awareness lessons so that people are better prepared against the threats that are unfortunately plaing our virtual worlds. And so, yeah, we started that. I don't know, sky a few months ago, maybe a year ago, thinking about all of this and how I would actually implement that.

So yeah, here we are. The personas we've used, like everything we're doing, we're trying to be accurate. Like we can't go into too many details about what she's doing, what people are doing, of course, because, well, that would be too long. That would be probably too boring. But we wanted that everything that she is doing, everything that's happening is.

Could happen in real life. It is not a far stretch. There are a couple of things. Maybe we would take some liberties, but not that many. It's a fairly accurate show and from a human perspective as well, like the fact that Alice is tortured probably between what she's doing and her values in life. I mean, those are real things and that's really the mantra we wanted to follow with that show.

Ian Faison: Yeah. I think one of the things that drew me to the story from the very beginning was this idea. It's accessible that this isn't quite the girl next door or the person next door, but this is something that people do. These type of hacks are accessible. This ransomware that, you know, I'm gonna go spend 500 bucks and buy this thing and, and see what destruction I can cause, or in her case, like how can I make a quick buck like that this stuff happens regularly.

And, and that people do decide to do this every day. And I think I'm curious. Sure. How realistic is this stuff like, could this happen? Like, does this happen? Oh, most 

Jérôme Robert: definitely. It does. It can. It will. The, the show has a real authenticity to it. I think we, like I said before, we take sometimes some shortcuts because we can't explain everything, but we will have some follow up webinars.

Where we can go into the details of what's happening and he'st told explicitly during the show, but all of that is again, accurate can happen is happening in real life. And. That's probably why we as a society are facing so many cybersecurity issues like the bar to be able to implement some fairly sophisticated attacks is very low today.

Right? You have prepackaged tools like she's using that can be leveraged to launch. Attacks without any pre knowledge or I'm pushing that a little with very little knowledge and that's, again, that's one of the motivations why allow us to do this? Right? Because it's a company that feels it has a responsibility towards society.

We are all about prevention. So avoiding that bad stuff happens right before they happen. And this is part of it. It's a small stone to that. Ed. Yeah. One 

Ian Faison: of the things I thought was so interesting is we did a lot of research for this story as we were prepping to, to create it and create the characters and how every single person that we talked to knew someone who had been hacked had their company hacked, had a, you know, loved one who family was hacked or something like that.

Like it's funny, you know, it's kind of. Nobody talks about this stuff necessarily in the open. And then when you start doing some diligence and start talking to people about, Hey, we're gonna, we're creating this series. And then people are like, oh yeah, no, my, my friends company that that happened, and this is how much they asked for, and this is what, you know, ended up happening and all that stuff.

I think it's, it's a crazy thing. How much you learned just from talking to people and exploring for a show like this, Skylar, I'm curious, as you were writing the Noella, as you were thinking about this character and the characters and this story, like why a barista, why this person living in, in New York city, who is Alice?

Skyler Schmanski: Well, I'll try not to let my personal bias creep into this of enjoying writing in coffee shops. But as Jerome alluded to, we wanted to ground it in a relatable reality. This is somebody who is looking for a better life and that better life simply isn't coming fast enough. She feels she has her back against the wall.

She's six figures in student debt, something that. All too common nowadays. And she arrives at a point mentally where she feels that she no longer has the luxury of being quote unquote. Good. And I use the word luxury deliberately here because in a civilized society, most of the time, it quite literally pays to be good or at least to get along with and respect the laws and she for better and for worse here feels that she can no longer abide by those.

And so whenever that opportunity lands in her lap, she seizes it mentally emotion. She's at a place where if you fail enough times, you start to think you yourself are the failure. And that's why she's willing to bend her own rules, her own morals, her ethics. And I think it's also indicative of a larger kind of societal ethic, right?

I'm remembering those early two thousands ads where they were trying to get through our heads that Hey, piloting music off of pirate bay or Limewire, whatever it was back in the day is just as bad as. You wouldn't steal a car, you wouldn't steal a radio, you wouldn't steal X, Y, Z. Right. And even if we've come a long ways, almost two decades since then, there still is that pervasive mentality in society.

Where, I mean, just take, for example, if you hear that hackers stole a billion dollars worth of Bitcoin, you might kind of furrow your brow and say, well, does that have anything to do with the whole NFT thing? Oh, that's cool. Okay. If, however you had that same crime, but it were physical. Let's say someone breaks into the federal reserve and steals a billion dollars worth of gold bars that is gonna be on the nightly news for the next year.

And so that is obviously reflected in her own mentality and her own subconscious in being able to, to justify this, to rationalize this for herself as a quick anecdote, I heard from a listener that said, I don't know how I feel about Alice. On one side, all these things she's doing is Absolut. Horrible it's detestable, but at the same time, I can't help, but maybe not empathize, but at least sympathize with her position.

And I said, well, great. I guess that means we're doing our job here. And in fact, if it makes you feel any better, I don't know how I feel about Alice. And as a writer on this show, this is something that we're striving to achieve that thin gray line there, where the second we start to think, oh, she's completely justified on what she's doing.

She's a good person or the opposite of that. When we lean one way too far or the other it's time to kind of pull it back and insert a little more ambiguity into it. And we're trying to take that audience, our audience, to a place where they're a bit unsettled. And at the same time, understanding basically in a sentence, I wouldn't do that, but I understand why she's doing that.

Yeah. I think 

Ian Faison: she's a 20 something in society with a bunch of student debt and she thought she wanted a career. Turns out that might not be the path she's been doing something for a decade and it's not working, but she feels. Brilliant. And she feels like she's destined for something greater and she doesn't know what that thing is.

And she's broke. And she, her brother is annoying and more successful. And her roommate is annoying. This, this, and, and, and her two of her best friends are, are people that she's never met before. I mean, Rex, can you kind of talk. Alice's world and writing the world around her and, and trying to find these commonalities between all of us.

Rex New: I think with Alice she's in her twenties, she's, we've all been there, even if it's not in your twenties where you're trying to figure out your place in the world or, or things aren't working out. And, you know, I think one thing with Alice, especially that makes her, makes the idea of. A cyber crime may be a little more intriguing is that Alice is also someone who lives her life.

She lives her life, a good amount on her computer or on video games, playing video games with genie and Falcon. And it seems to me, and I, I think it's up to the listener and to know this for sure, but it seems to me that Alice prefers the ease of those relationships versus how complicated for lack of a better term real life can be her brother.

Pushes her to do something else. Her roommate, Katie, you know, wants to be her friend, but is frankly kind of annoying. She has this job. That's terrible. Alice's financial burdens. Keep her from performing. She is stage frighted because she's too stressed out about. You know, her day to day existence and how much money she has.

So I think it's all like, from my perspective, at least like a very relatable thing and whether or not you turn to cyber crime, you probably don't, but you probably do do something that when you're desperate, you do 

Ian Faison: desperate things. One of the things that, or we've seen as feedback, which I thought was really interesting was people reaching out and saying, Oh, Hey, that thing that you put in there, oh, the people reaching out for the, about the golf clubs, like, ah, I had someone reach out to me for that exact same thing recently or, or, or just some of the other kind of plot points.

I feel like we did a good job trying to pull as much from. Our lives living in business and seeing all the stuff around us into this to make it as real, as possible with the things that she's doing, the way that she's looking on, stalking someone on their Instagram profiles, on their online, going back and digging through their posts and all that stuff.

And again, it seems, I mean, truly creepy, right? Like this is a creepy thing, but Jerome, I mean, this is stuff. People are doing right. I mean, this is what hackers are doing. They're trying to get information any way they can and get an edge any way they can to do something. Most 

Jérôme Robert: definitely I'd say any way they can, but also the easiest way they can.

Right. They are playing Mo most of them are playing a number game, right? So they are attacking a lot of targets at once or in succession in quick, quick succession. And their intent is to find one that's going to react positively. And so the arsenal that they're using depends on how focused they are. Do they want to target a hundred companies, a thousand companies, which would.

Mass attack. And then you rely only on automatic systems or do they have 10 targets or even one target. And in that case, which is Alice's case in the, at the beginning of the season, she needs to do what's necessary, including social engineering, real life hacking, and yeah, that is happening. And that is frightening.

If you ask me in the sense that I'm a, I'm a cybersecurity professional. I'm fairly certain that I would fall for it, not what she's doing there in their show, because I'm somewhat educated in terms of cybersecurity, but with someone who's talented enough in front of me, I would definitely fall for it so they can go.

They can, they can go to great length. And they can also do some very, very basic stuff, providing that sufficient again, the most efficient way to success is the one they're gonna follow, whatever that, that implies. Maybe, maybe one thing I'm going back to the question before, but something I wanted to, we wanted when we were writing the scenario and the global story and backstory of Alice, we wanted someone.

Normal, right. We didn't want her to be a genius. We didn't want her to be a Kung Fu master or anything like this. Right. We just wanted someone normal, someone average. Well, we created a likable character and I think she is probably smarter than the average, but this is no genius. What she's doing is what everyone almost could do, literally.

So that's very important as. She's an 

Skyler Schmanski: opportunist. 

Ian Faison: Absolutely. So Skylar, I'm curious, we talked about pulling things from real life ways that people reach out to us, the idea of someone sitting down on the train next to you and be like, wait, do I know you from college? You know, like these sort of things that create that awkward social interaction that create pressure, that like any type of person who's like scamming, you would rely on to do those things.

But we didn't just pull things from there. We also pulled things that were happening events in the world. In real life. And one of the things, you know, we've seen people in the comments saying that they wish that we published more often. We wish we published more often, but to truth be told this whole show was supposed to launch on the Eve of what ended up becoming like the base cyber story.

In a decade, we are trying to pull things that are happening. Like right now into the story. Skylar, can you, can you kind of talk about that? And, and from the time writing to Noella to now how the story has changed a little bit by pulling in these real elements? I wrote 

Skyler Schmanski: the Novea off of Jerome's worldview, his, the, the global overarching story that he had, he had put together about the character and the, the key plot points.

I wrote that in about six weeks or so. And obviously the podcast has taken a little bit longer than that, but it's because we're trying to keep it timeless. We're trying to ground it in that reality. And as you reference, I don't think there's a better example of. That IMO of blurring fiction and reality than the fact that we had this podcast locked and loaded primed for launch the Eve of the discovery of the biggest vulnerability in a decade in cybersecurity.

And so that was all hands on deck at tenable and in the cybersecurity industry. And we had to. Meet our community where our community was. And in that moment, it wasn't appropriate to, to be launching a podcast, but just as critically, we wanted to incorporate those elements. We were still learning them.

The entire industry was, and we wanted to incorporate those into the podcast to, to make this as realistic and timeless as possible. And. Basically it boils down to the quote or paraphrase Miyamoto, a delayed product will eventually be good, but a rushed product will forever be bad. And we're okay having to go back to the drawing board to reflect the breaking news, if it means that our listeners ultimately get the better story.

Ian Faison: And I think that one of the reasons for that is like we wanted Alice to be hacking right now. She is out there working as we're recording this podcast, as people are listening, that this is something that is so in the here and now, but like you said, also will be timeless. And, you know, obviously, you know, that's inside the, uh, the writer's studio there, but think that that stuff makes it more.

Makes it more fun and makes it more accessible to know that this character and all her friends are out there doing crazy stuff. And so Rex, you were responsible for creating some of the wacky sidekicks and stuff like that, but also this was your intro to hacking. You were in a lot of ways, the audience avatar for Alice's on the rabbit hole, intro to the dark web.

What was that like for you as a writer, diving headfirst into the, the dark world. 

Rex New: I, I mean, before we started talking about this show, I, all I really knew about cybersecurity was, uh, you know, how to make a nice, strong password. And now it's things are very different. And it's funny that you say this stuff about the dark YN, because.

I don't know if y'all remember this, but when I downloaded tour, which is the browser that you use to access the dark web, I sent an email to Jerome, Skylar, and I asked if it was okay to go on the dark web at my cowork space, because I was nervous that I was gonna get hacked. Or do something dangerous. It turns out that's dark web is a lot like the regular internet in a lot of ways, except it's a lot slower.

And you know, if you know where to go, you can find some of the things that Alice is looking for. I personally have not. My bank account is still just the same as it was beforehand. I haven't gotten into hacking just yet, but it's been really interesting cause you really, obviously Alice has. Minor in computer science.

So she has some knowledge so that she can learn things quickly and she has some natural talent. But the thing that's most amazing to me is this is a weird thing to say, but just all the things that people can do, this is a whole world that I had no idea that it existed. And obviously there's a lot more to the dark web than just hacking.

Like people use it. Democracy activists, people in countries with repression, things like that, but it's been really cool to see and, you know, Jerome and I were going over a case study yesterday for something that we're using for the rest of season one. And I felt really proud of myself cuz Jerome was talking like in some very technical terms.

And I was like, yeah, I get this. I understand it. I get what's going. That, that was a cool feeling. Yeah. , 

Ian Faison: that's the goal. And I think it's an important point for this story, which is we wanted to be able to tell a story that's like 1 0 1 level, but also has. 3, 0 1 and 4 0 1 elements, which is a tough thing to do.

Like there's a lot of stuff that will go over people's heads, that's super technical, or like a offhand comment. That's very technical, but the cyber security people know exactly what that is. And then there's other stuff that is just kind of your don't wanna say a regular story, but a Hollywood style story.

And just like you would see on Netflix or 

Rex New: Hulu or. Yeah, and I was just gonna say, it just occurred to me. If you think about the show with genie mentoring Alice throughout the show. Right. And so we start out with this intro to the dark web and it, and the ransomware software and it gradually. Gets with each explanation gets more and more technical and she's talking to tech support and that's, that gets a lot more detailed and the show will get a lot more detailed and technical as it goes on.

And I think that kind of mirrors our experience with the show is Jerome Skylar giving us this basic intro to the dark web. And as we go further and further and further, we all understand a little more about what's going on. That's kind of cool. I hadn't thought about. 

Jérôme Robert: we've been lucky or, and we're super happy to be, to, to, to have been working with you guys, because like, you've been genuinely interested into understanding that world, right?

You're not just writing on something you don't care about and you're doing your job, but you are making a point understanding what, what we're talking about and that makes the, the story so much more realistic. Well, geez, thanks. 

Ian Faison: I mean, I, I think that all of us really. Love these characters and love this story and think that this is important work that people want to talk about Skylar, to your point earlier, how many bank he movies are there versus how many cyber crime fillers are there?

I mean, there's, you know, virtually none, there's a lot of like true stories that are told in a dramatic way, but there's not a lot of fictional stories told in this way. And that was one of the things that we wanted to put out there and to tell a story. Is really easy to understand and to dig into like how this can all.

And the technical details. So Skylar, tell us about this webinar, because I think that this is one of the things that is so cool that we can do as a companion to this show is to actually bring on the technical guru that was behind the scenes, working on a lot of these technical aspects and bring it to you in a webinar to understand how all these hacks happen, how realistic they are and all the different pieces of that.

So tell us about the upcoming webinar. If you're looking 

Skyler Schmanski: to really dive deeper behind the narrative itself, stay tuned for the end of season webinar here with Sylvan Cortez. He is, as you mentioned, the series technical consultant, invaluable to the entire creation process, but also a 15 time Microsoft MVP.

So he's basically been doing this. Being a specialist in cybersecurity, as long as a lot of these core it systems have been around. So we're honored to have him on board. And in fact, he's gonna be doing a sit down face to face interview with our series protagonist, Alice. So more details on that to be shared soon, but stay tuned.

Ian Faison: Before we get outta here. Any, any other final thoughts on the series or, or, or what's coming up or look forward? 

Jérôme Robert: Well, what I can say is thanks to, to the people who are listening to us right now, thanks to the success that the trust they've, they've put into us in writing such a story. We've decided to go for a season two.

So there's, there's gonna be. Next iteration of the hago Chronicle. The, the season one is self-contained right. Don't don't think there's no end at the end of season one, but that season two is gonna develop on that story, that world, and, well, we'll just see, uh, more stuff, more cyber security tricks. 

Ian Faison: Yeah.

Skyler, what's next for Alice? 

Skyler Schmanski: Well, she just asked for $350,000 and broke Jeanie's golden rule. So she's gonna quickly find out that money like that has some strings attached and it's gonna catch up with her rather quickly, or at least try to. So spoiler alert, season two is on the horizon. The story does not end with season one, but we are certainly gonna pull a lot of these threads together and it's gonna be one heck of a final.

Ian Faison: Yeah, we got five episodes left. I'm super excited. Next episode should be coming out real soon and we're almost pushing towards our season one finale. So again, thanks to everyone who listens. If you ever wanna reach out to any of us, we'll link that up in the show notes. Uh, you can reach out to us anytime.

If you have questions. If you got ideas for season two, I don't know. It's a hack that inspired you, that you want us to tell. I don't know, whatever hit us up. Anytime you can obviously always go to To learn more about tenable and you can also go to to learn more about the show.

That's where, uh, everything for the show will be on the website. The webinar will be there and, and everything like that. So that's it. That's all we got for today. Thanks so much for listening and take care.