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How a fake 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics hacking story is causing real damage to NBC News' reputation

NBC News would have you believe that the life expectancy of a MacBook Air or Android phone at the Winter Olympic Games is roughly zero, at least when it comes to it being hacked and your financial and other personal information stolen. Anyone with a base level of technical knowledge at all would recognize it as complete and utter bullshit the minute they saw it. Sadly, as many of us who got contacted by concerned family members know, it's far too easy to scare everyone else. Robert Graham of Errata Security calls the report "100% fraudulent":

Absolutely 0% of the story was about turning on a computer and connecting to a Sochi network. 100% of the story was about visiting websites remotely. Thus, the claim of the story that you'll get hacked immediately upon turning on your computers is fraudulent. The only thing that can be confirmed by the story is "don't let Richard Engel borrow your phone".

They didn't name the type of phone, and didn't show an iPhone, which has an amazingly good track record when it comes to preventing malware and other security risks. Phil Nickinson weighs in on the Android aspect on Android Central:

What's more is that Android has safeguards built in by default. While it certainly is possible to hit a link and see a malicious app start downloading, it won't actually install without some other interaction. And one of the first checkpoints is the "Unknown sources" option. If your phone isn't set to install apps from outside Google Play — in other words, "unknown sources," it'll tell you. And in just about every retail phone we can think of, that option is turned on by default. Those are but two layers of security. There are others.

It's a similar story with the MacBook. You'd have to go to a dangerous website, download a malware package, launch it, allow it to bypass Gatekeeper, and give it your admin password in order to install. In other words, you've got to be the failure point, not your computer. And none of that has anything to do with going to Sochi.

Time was mainstream media turned their noses up at bloggers, claiming we were beneath them and weren't "real journalists". And thank goodness for that, given just how crazy a lot of mainstream media has become. I've already expressed my dismay over an excerpt from a former-Wall Street Journal reporter's Apple book, and this just makes a bad day for the Fifth Estate that much worse.

Attracting attention is easy. Doing something worthwhile with it is another thing entirely. NBC could have grabbed us and left us better educated and informed for it. Instead they tried to make us dumber.

NBC's motto used to be "proud as a peacock". What happened to that pride?

Via: Errata Security

(And, given the potential harm of the story, can I tell you how much I don't care that they tore open the MBA box like three year olds on cake-fueld sugar highs?)

Rene Ritchie
Contributor

Rene Ritchie is one of the most respected Apple analysts in the business, reaching a combined audience of over 40 million readers a month. His YouTube channel, Vector, has over 90 thousand subscribers and 14 million views and his podcasts, including Debug, have been downloaded over 20 million times. He also regularly co-hosts MacBreak Weekly for the TWiT network and co-hosted CES Live! and Talk Mobile. Based in Montreal, Rene is a former director of product marketing, web developer, and graphic designer. He's authored several books and appeared on numerous television and radio segments to discuss Apple and the technology industry. When not working, he likes to cook, grapple, and spend time with his friends and family.

20 Comments
  • It's not like BSNBC has been accused of real journalism in the past 10 years... Much like Fox news mission has been the prevention of Mr Bush's name being besmerched nbc has assigned themselves the infomercial station for socialist agendas. Once that started they haven't been able to tell the difference between newsworthy and news fakery Posted via the Android iMore App!
  • Yeah, right--mainstream media are about as liberal as the corporations that own them....much less "socialist"! (insert rolling eyes here)
  • Not sure we need to play the "socialist" angle on this. NBC hasn't been relevant for many years...
  • Interesting read! Sent from the iMore App
  • When I saw his piece I just knew it was hype and nothing more. They were infact very light on the details saw right through it.
  • The sad thing is that probably 95% of those who watched it probably believed it... They probably figured that "hey, it's an NBC News story so it must be credible." My, how low NBC has sunk.
  • Android. Figures.
  • Hey now, let's play nice. NBC is the enemy here, not Android. Posted via the Android iMore App!
  • Thanks for your constructive comment. In the future, though, keep your thoughts to yourself. Thanks.
  • good to see the zealots out to defend nbc
  • The misinformation about Android is just as damaging to Apple in this instance.
  • Good article. News services are so fast to get the story out, they do not research. It is no longer good journalism, but a ratings war. The days of Walter Cronkite good reporting, are long gone. To bad, and kinda of sad. Sent from the iMore App
  • I knew the story was a farce when he ripped open the Macbook Air box.
  • Someone should show them the proper way to open a MBA box and use there electronics.
    Very sad to see such a misrepresentation of the the truth from them.
  • Thanks Renee. I called this story out from the moment it appeared. Shock 'journalism' like this is a complete joke. What happened to the days of fact-checking a story? *sigh*
  • This was said many years ago and is still relevant today ..... If you don't read the newspaper, you're uninformed. If you read the newspaper, you're misinformed. - Mark Twain So to bring this into the modern era… If you don't follow the news, you're uninformed. If you do track the news, you're misinformed.
  • And did you see the way he tore into that MacBook Air box? I wanted to beat him up the side of the head with it. That alone told me the guy was CLUELESS.
  • Essentially, the story boils down to: "If you go looking for trouble, you'll find it" Sent from the iMore App
  • That is a perfect summary! I couldn't have said it better myself. Sent from the iMore App
  • Did you see the way he tore into that MacBook air box.. Really? Who opens a up a new computer box like ripping into a box of Captain Crunch looking for the prize? Geez. Talk about dramatic effect.