Wednesday, February 12, 2014

NBC 20/20: setups broadcast as news

NBC's 20/20 program broadcast a breathless report about how "you could be hacked at the Olympics".  Unsurprisingly, it was all a scam:
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:

  1. Richard Engel had to first disable the security settings that would block unknown hostile Android apps, something few users do.
  2. 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.
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.

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.”

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.”
Die screaming in a pickup truck fire, NBC.


Nosmo King said...

So, BP, are we to assume that you assign any degree at all of reliability or truthfulness to anything coming from NBC?

And all this time I thought you were in the reality-based computer security biz.

BTW, I have a list of shows on ABC, CBS and CNN that I'd like you to watch, and do you have a subscription to WaPo and the NYT yet?

Aaron said...

Nice reference there to NBC staging the pickup truck fires back in 1992.

Why NBC maintains any credibility after continually being shown to play fast and loose with the facts is quite the question. I guess because it reliably tilts the facts to support the leftist party line it gets a pass.

Old NFO said...

Some things DON'T change... if the story isn't working, cheat and hope nobody notices...

kahr40 said...

Actually, getting computer security news from NBC is like getting gun safety news from...NBC.

ASM826 said...

"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."

I enjoy technology. I do. However, if I had one piece or type of technology I could eliminate, it would be cell phones. Every cell phone would be better doused in gasoline and embedded in fireworks. The way phones are used in automobiles is more dangerous than drunk driving. They should be banned.

This can be filed under "For the Children!!!eleventy-one111!!" and "If it saves just one life". because it would save lives. There's a woman here locally that was charged this week with 2nd degree murder for killing a 75 year old grandmother while driving and texting.

Cell phones. Because if we asked everyone to carry a tracking device they would refuse, but if we make them convenient enough, they will pay us for the privilege.

deadmandance said...

Wait wait wait wait. NBC had credibility to lose?