Producers of the cybersecurity podcast Data@Rest released the first half of the show’s sixth season on April 20. Michael Williams and Charlie Mewshaw, cybersecurity specialists who produce and host Data@Rest, anticipate releasing the second half of this season in May.
The “human side of information security” is a key theme of the show year after year, but this season is the first built entirely around that angle, said Williams, Network Security Team Lead for ITS’ Information Security Office. Co-producer and co-host Mewshaw is Chief Information Security Officer at UNC Fayetteville State University.
This season of Data@Rest will include six episodes that cover topics such as privacy, how to communicate with younger users and how to approach relationships with vendors. Guests include Louise Flinn and Lila Davidson of ITS Communications and Kim Stahl, Senior Policy and Process Lead for ITS.
“We have plenty of technical discussion material, but this season we really wanted to focus on the why behind what we do, and the why always comes down to people,” Williams said.
Data@Rest is available to stream on podcast apps, including Spotify and Apple Podcasts, as well as on the web.
Spotlight on Michael Williams
Whether he’s writing a new novel, hosting one of his podcasts or protecting UNC-Chapel Hill’s campus from data security threats, Williams brings his natural creativity to everything he does.
Williams was in a staff meeting when someone used the term “data at rest” in a professional context. Data at rest refers to data in a recorded medium that isn’t being transferred. The phrase is nothing out of the ordinary for IT professionals like Williams. This time, however, Williams turned to Mewshaw, his ITS co-worker at the time, and off-handedly mentioned that it would make a great name for a podcast.
This moment of imagination was hardly unusual for Williams, who just finished writing his 12th book we’ll get to read — though his repertoire includes many more.
Continuing a Carolina path
Williams started working at the ISO in 2009. For him, it marked a return to Carolina; he graduated from the University in 1999 with a degree in Performance Studies and Communications Studies.
He spent most of his undergraduate time working for the Office of Information Technology, which is now ITS. Williams chose his majors because they applied to his interests while also giving him the people skills necessary for an IT career. He would continue to learn technical skills on the job, just as he had as a student worker.
After graduation, Williams worked in the world of corporate IT until he found the position at ITS. “They were looking for somebody who had exactly the skills that I picked up over my career, and it was going to be much more meaningful work for me,” he said. “I feel very strongly about public education.”
Data in motion
His job at the ISO led him to meet Mewshaw. The two “wound up in cubes next to each other,” Williams said. “Totally by ourselves.”
One day at work, Williams made a reference to The X-Files, and Mewshaw got the joke. The two realized their common interests, and their friendship grew from there. Being alone in their corner of the office gave Mewshaw and Williams the comfort to talk about “weird stuff,” like UFOs and legends, in their free moments.
The two are often in sync with one another. That’s why, when Williams mentioned to Mewshaw that “data at rest” sounded like the name of a podcast, Mewshaw responded: “Hey. You know what? It would.” They kicked the idea around for a few weeks before Williams pitched it to then-Chief Information Security Officer Kevin Lanning, who gave them the green light.
One of Williams’ and Mewshaw’s early goals was to make Data@Rest explicitly accessible. One way they do so is by exploring data security topics in a conversational, humorous way — the same way they spoke to one another in the office. Williams believes that “as long as you can make someone laugh, you can tell them anything.”
Folklore, legends and tales
COVID-19 hit during the middle of their second season.
“We did several episodes remotely at the very beginning of the pandemic,” explained Williams. One day, he said, Mewshaw asked him: “What if we did a show that was just for fun? That was something we could just look forward to in a time when we have nothing to look forward to, and it’ll just be a fun way for us to get to hang out and have conversations like we would have had sitting in the office.”
From there, Arcane Carolinas was born. In Mewshaw and Williams’ own words on the Arcane Carolinas website, the podcast explores “folklore, legends and modern weird tales from the mountaintops to sand dunes across the Carolinas’ backroads and byroads.”
Starting the conversation
Though Williams often thinks of Arcane Carolinas and Data@Rest as different, he said there are ways in which the two are deeply similar.
They each cover “things that can be terrifying,” Williams said. “One is about information security, which feels like a nebulous, formless void as a topic to many people, and sometimes even to me. It’s just a source of mysteries.”
“They’re both about topics that I think people have a lot of questions about, but people also hesitate to ask those questions,” he said. “Lots of people have questions about computer security information, but they don’t really know where to start. Or they worry that if they ask the question, someone is going to info-dump tech talk on them, and they’re never going to understand.”
The topics they discuss on Arcane Carolinas are similar in that way.
“There are a lot of people out there who have had a weird experience, or they’ve heard a story, or they know a legend from their town, or they’ve read a book about it,” Williams continued. “And they have a lot of questions. They think back on their own experiences that were mysterious to them, and they wonder. But they’re afraid to ask, in part, because they don’t want people to look at them weird.”
Joining the table
Williams started another podcast, Social Distancing Radio, toward the start of the pandemic. The show features Williams reading novels and short stories, both his own and others, such as Bram Stoker’s Dracula.
“Readers do not want to be sold a book,” Williams said about the podcast’s inclusion of authors besides himself. “They don’t want somebody to come at them and say, ‘Stop what you’re doing and read mine.’ What they want is somebody to join them at the table and talk about books with them.”
It’s perhaps this sentiment that embodies the connection between all of Williams’ work, both in and outside ITS. In each of his endeavors, Williams is a communicator and a storyteller who meets people where they are.