The true story behind history’s biggest hack: A podcast

Bob Sullivan

You probably had a Yahoo account. And you probably know that account was hacked. After all, the firm admitted about a year ago that 1 billion accounts had been compromised. Check that…it was actually 3 billion. Every Yahoo account created since, essentially, the dawn of the Internet.  What you probably don’t know is that’s the least bad thing that happened during the Yahoo “hack.”

You might not know that U.S. authorities are convinced that a group of Russian-backed hackers, including two FSB (KGB) agents, probably hacked Yahoo, and you. And I feel pretty certain you don’t know that this group of Russians did much more than the usual snatch-and-grab passwords thing.  They lurked inside Yahoo’s systems for more than two years. The had full access to Yahoo account management tool. Critically, they could read user emails. For years. Maybe they read yours.  At first, they targeted very specific individuals — Russian journalists, U.S. government officials; also employees at French transportation company, a Swiss bitcoin wallet firm, a U.S. airline, and many more.

Then, they started scanning millions of user emails.  Last year, investigators revealed that the group was clever enough to “mint” cookies, giving them access to 32 million Yahoo email accounts, and users’ most intimate life details.

Yahoo was the biggest hack in history — both in depth, and in breadth.

Four months ago, I was contacted by the folks at Spoke Media who came to me with an already-assembled team of  brilliant producers and asked if I wanted to help them try to make sense all this.  I jumped at the chance, and I’ve spent most of my time since learning everything I could about this hack. The result is a five-episode podcast which we just released.

It’s a very different kind of storytelling than I’m used to, and you’re used to. You get to come along for the ride. We admit what we don’t know.  We show our work– as journalists, I think this is critical in our time. Experts get to talk, not for moments, but minutes. Even longer.

As you and I try to make sense out of what’s going on at Facebook, in the election, in the era of fake news, I hope we are making a serious contribution to this discussion.

I’m very proud of the project, which has implications far beyond the seemingly innocuous hack of your 10-year-old, dormant Yahoo email account.

You can sample episode 4 by clicking play below, or visit the iTunes page and subscribe to the podcast.

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