In this post, I try to replicate the NBC story where their new phone got hacked in a Russian cafe even before they were finished with coffee. Two new points to add to my previous blog post on the subject:So you can get "hacked" if you turn off all the security on your phone and then go actively Googling for malware that can hack you. The only thing that would have made this a better story is if they had doused the phone in gasoline and put fireworks on it.
- Richard Engel had to first disable the security settings that would block unknown hostile Android apps, something few users do.
- The Google search engine downranks hostile sites, making them hard to find. It's extraordinarily unlikely Richard Engel would've found a virus on his own without being fed specific search terms or a URL.
Getting computer security news from NBC is like getting gun safety news from the Joyce Foundation. Reason brings down the Hammer of Love:
Graham then tried to replicate Engel's experiment. After going to great lengths, he writes, “I gave up and cheated -- cheating the same way I'm sure Richard Engel cheated. Instead of looking just for Sochi, I went looking for the viruses themselves.”Die screaming in a pickup truck fire, NBC.
An NBC representative responded by charging, "The claims made [by Graham] are completely without merit.” According to CNET, instead of focusing on the actual hacking claims, the representative “noted that the report made it clear from the beginning that the taping was done in Moscow.” Judge for yourself how obvious that was in the broadcast.
This kind of sensationalist reporting not only calls into question NBC's credibility, it is outright counterproductive for technology freedom. As The Verge notes, deliberately muddling the distinction between the supposed threats posed by hackers and the real ones posed by massive government surveillance systems “is one of the things that allows that very system to be set up.”