It would seem that hackers today can do just about anything they want - from turning on the cellphone in your pocket to holding your life's work hostage. Cyber criminals today have more sophisticated tools, have learned to work collaboratively around the world and have found innovative ways to remain deep undercover in the internet's shadows. This episode, we shine a light into those shadows to see the world from the perspectives of both cybercrime victims and perpetrators. First we meet mother-daughter duo Alina and Inna Simone, who tell us about being held hostage by criminals who have burrowed into their lives from half a world away. Along the way we learn about the legally sticky spot that unwitting accomplices like Will Wheeler find themselves in. Then reporter and author Joseph Menn tells us about the surprisingly lucrative professional hacker structure in places throughout the former Soviet Union. Finally, the co-creator of one of the most notorious online marketplaces to ever exist speaks to us and NPR cyber-crime expert Dina Temple-Raston about how a young suburban Boy Scout can turn into a world renowned black hat hacker. Support Radiolab by becoming a member today at Radiolab.org/donate.Radiolab is on YouTube! Catch up with new episodes and hear classics from our archive. Plus, find other cool things we did in the past — like miniseries, music videos, short films and animations, behind-the-scenes features, Radiolab live shows, and more. Take a look, explore and subscribe!

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Radiolab Podcast Episodes

Darkode

It would seem that hackers today can do just about anything they want - from turning on the cellphone in your pocket to holding your life's work hostage. Cyber criminals today have more sophisticated tools, have learned to work collaboratively around the world and have found innovative ways to remain deep undercover in the internet's shadows. This episode, we shine a light into those shadows to see the world from the perspectives of both cybercrime victims and perpetrators. First we meet mother-daughter duo Alina and Inna Simone, who tell us about being held hostage by criminals who have burrowed into their lives from half a world away. Along the way we learn about the legally sticky spot that unwitting accomplices like Will Wheeler find themselves in. Then reporter and author Joseph Menn tells us about the surprisingly lucrative professional hacker structure in places throughout the former Soviet Union. Finally, the co-creator of one of the most notorious online marketplaces to ever exist speaks to us and NPR cyber-crime expert Dina Temple-Raston about how a young suburban Boy Scout can turn into a world renowned black hat hacker. Support Radiolab by becoming a member today at Radiolab.org/donate.Radiolab is on YouTube! Catch up with new episodes and hear classics from our archive. Plus, find other cool things we did in the past — like miniseries, music videos, short films and animations, behind-the-scenes features, Radiolab live shows, and more. Take a look, explore and subscribe!

Worst. Year. Ever.

What was the worst year to be alive on planet Earth?   We make the case for 536 AD, which set off a cascade of catastrophes that is almost too horrible to imagine. A supervolcano. The disappearance of shadows. A failure of bread. Plague rats. Using evidence painstakingly gathered around the world - from Mongolian tree rings to Greenlandic ice cores to Mayan artifacts - we paint a portrait of what scientists and historians think went wrong, and what we think it felt like to be there in real time. (Spoiler: not so hot.)  We hear a hymn for the dead from the ancient kingdom of Axum, the closest we can get to the sound of grief from a millennium and a half ago. The horrors of 536 make us wonder about the parallels and perpendiculars with our own time: does it make you feel any better knowing that your suffering is part of a global crisis? Or does it just make things worse?"Thanks to reporter Ann Gibbons whose Science article "Eruption made 536 ‘the worst year to be alive" got us interested in the first place. In case you want to learn more about 536, here are some other sources: Timothy P. Newfield, “The Climate Downturn of 536-50” in the Palgrave Handbook on Climate HistoryDallas Abbott et al., “What caused terrestrial dust loading and climate downturns between A.D. 533 and 540?”Joel Gunn and Alesio Ciarini (editors), “The A.D. 536 Crisis: A 21st Century Perspective”Antti Arjava, “The Mystery Cloud of 536 CE in the Mediterranean Sources” And for more on the composer Yared, watch Meklit Hadero’s TED talk “The Unexpected Beauty of Everyday Sounds” Credits: This episode was reported by Latif Nasser and Lulu Miller, and produced by Simon Adler.  With sound and music from Simon Adler and Jeremy Bloom. Special Thanks: Thanks to Joel Gunn, Dallas Abbott, Mathias Nordvig, Emma Rigby, Robert Dull, Daniel Yacob, Kay Shelemey, Jacke Phillips, Meklit Hadero, and Joan Aruz. Support Radiolab by becoming a member today at Radiolab.org/donate.  Radiolab is on YouTube! Catch up with new episodes and hear classics from our archive. Plus, find other cool things we did in the past — like miniseries, music videos, short films and animations, behind-the-scenes features, Radiolab live shows, and more. Take a look, explore and subscribe!

Flop Off

This past year was a flop. From questionable blockbuster reboots to supply chain shenanigans to worst of all, omnipresent COVID variants. But, in a last ditch effort to flip the flop, we at Radiolab have dredged up the most mortifying, most cringeworthy, most gravity-defying flops we could find. From flops at a community pool to flops at the White House, from a flop that derails a career to flops that give NBA players a sneaky edge, from flops that’ll send you seeking medical advice to THE flopped flop that in a way enabled us all. Take a break from all the disappointment and flop around with us. Special Thanks to: Kaitlin Murphy, Dana Stevens, David Novak, Pablo Pinero Stillman Support Radiolab by becoming a member today at Radiolab.org/donate. 

Vanishing Words

When Alana Casanova-Burgess set out to make a podcast series about Puerto Rico, she struggled with what to call it. Until one word came to mind, a word that captures a certain essence of life in Puerto Rico, but eludes easy translation into English. We talk to Alana about her series, and that particular word, then turn to an old story about treating words as signals of something happening just beneath the surface.  Agatha Christie's clever detective novels may reveal more about the inner workings of the human mind than she intended. According to Dr. Ian Lancashire at the University of Toronto, the Queen of Crime left behind hidden clues to the real-life mysteries of human aging in her writing. Meanwhile, Dr. Kelvin Lim and Dr. Serguei Pakhomov from the University of Minnesota add to the intrigue with the story of an unexpected find in a convent archive that could someday help pinpoint very early warning signs for Alzheimer's disease and dementia. Sister Alberta Sheridan, a 94-year-old Nun Study participant, reads an essay she wrote more than 70 years ago. La Brega update was produced by Maria Paz Gutierrez

Return of Alpha Gal

Tuck your napkin under your chin.  We’re about to serve up a tale of love, loss, and lamb chops - with a side of genetic modification. Several years ago we told a story about Amy Pearl. For as long as she could remember, Amy loved meat in all its glorious cuts and marbled flavors. And then one day, for seemingly no reason, her body wouldn’t tolerate it.  No steaks. No brisket. No weenies. It made no sense: why couldn’t she eat something that she had routinely enjoyed for decades?  It turned out Amy was not alone. And the answer to her mysterious allergy involved maps, a dancing lone star tick, and a very particular sugar called Alpha Gal.  In this update, we discover that our troubles with Alpha Gal go way beyond food. We go to NYU Langone Health hospital to see the second ever transplant of a kidney from a pig into a human, talk to some people at Revivicor, the company that bred the pig in question, and go back to Amy to find out what she thinks about this brave new world. The original episode was reported by Latif Nasser, and produced by Annie McEwen and Matt Kielty. Sound design and scoring from Dylan Keefe, Annie McEwen, and Matt Kielty. Mix by Dylan Keefe with Arianne Wack. The update was reported and produced by Sarah Qari. It was sound designed, scored, and mixed by Jeremy Bloom.  Support Radiolab by becoming a member today at Radiolab.org/donate.   

Animal Minds

In this hour of Radiolab, stories of cross-species communication. When we gaze into the eyes of a wild animal, or even a beloved pet, can we ever really know what they might be thinking? Is it naive to assume they're experiencing something close to human emotions? Or is it ridiculous to assume that they AREN'T feeling something like that? We get the story of a rescued whale that may have found a way to say thanks, ask whether dogs feel guilt, and wonder if a successful predator may have fallen in love with a photographer.

Mixtape: Help?

In tape five, three stories: first, a tale of how the cassette tape supercharged the self-help industry. Second, cassettes filled with history make an epic journey across Africa with a group of Lost Boys. And finally, Simon meets up with fellow Radiolabber David Gebel to dig through an old box of mixtapes and rediscover the unique power of these bygone love letters. Mixtape was reported, produced, scored and sound designed by me, Simon Adler, with music throughout by me. Unending reporting and production assistance was provided by Eli Cohen. Special Thanks to: Shad Helmstetter, Vic Conan, Glenna Salisbury, Jerry Rosen, Richard Petty, Sharon Arkin, Angela Impey, William Mulwill for sharing his cassettes with me, and to the British library for sharing some of their recordings from their South Sudan collection, which is housed at the British Library Sound Archive. Support Radiolab by becoming a member today at Radiolab.org/donate. 

Mixtape: Cassetternet

In 1983, Simon Goodwin had a strange thought. Would it be possible to broadcast computer software over the radio? If so, could listeners record it off the air and onto a cassette tape? This experiment and dozens of others in the early 80s created a series of cassette fueled, analog internets. They copied and moved information like never before, upended power structures and created a poisonous social network that brought down a regime.  In tape four of Mixtape, we examine how these early internet came about, and how the societal and cultural impacts of these analog information networks can still be felt today. Mixtape is reported, produced, scored and sound designed by Simon Adler with original music throughout by Simon. Top tier reporting and production assistance was provided by Eli Cohen. Special thanks to: Alex Sayf Cummings, Martin Maly, Piotr Gawrysiak, Joe Tozer, James Gleick, Jason Rezaian, Gholam Khiabany and Mo Jazi. And to Arash Aziz for helping us every step of the way with our story about Khomeini. And Simon Goodwin for making us that secret code. And to Micah Loewinger to tipping me off to these software radio broadcasts.  Support Radiolab by becoming a member today at Radiolab.org/donate.     

Mixtape: The Wandering Soul

As the Vietnam war dragged on, the US military began desperately searching for any vulnerability in their North Vietnamese enemy. In 1964, they found it. It was an old Vietnamese folktale involving a ghost, eternal damnation and fear - a tailor made weaponizable myth. And so, armed with tape recorders and microphones, the military set out to win the war by bringing this ghost story to life. Today, the story of these efforts and their ghosts that still haunt us today.  Mixtape is reported, produced, scored and sound designed by Simon Adler with original music throughout by Simon. Indispensable reporting and production assistance was provided by Eli Cohen. This episode was produced by Annie McEwen, with original music by Annie. Original reporting was contributed by Trung Dung Vo and Nguyễn Vân Hà. Special thanks to: Allison Boccia, Jared Tracy and Herb Friedman. And to Mathew Campbell for introducing me to the Wandering Soul tape to begin with. And to Erik Villard for all his help pulling those tapes and voices for us.  Support Radiolab by becoming a member today at Radiolab.org/donate. 

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