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NBC Has No Idea What Hacking Means, Experts Claim


NBC News is blamed for falsely representing cybersecurity in Russia by downloading malware onto a MacBook Air and Android phone.

By now, we're all familiar (or should be) with the cautionary measures we should abide by in order to secure our computers from hackers. Don't reuse passwords on multiple sites, never arbitrarily click on links in emails, log out of all accounts whenever using a public computer, etc. But a recent report on NBC (NASDAQ:CMCSA) News claims that folks in Russia for the Winter Olympics are finding their devices hacked the very moment they switch them on.

"If [travelers to Sochi] fire up their phones at baggage claim," host Brian Williams warns, "it's probably too late to save the integrity of their electronics and everything inside them. Visitors to Russia can expect to be hacked."

Williams underscores the unavoidable risk by stating, "It is not a matter of if, but when."

It wasn't long before tech experts immediately decried the segment as being 100%, unadulterated baloney.

The report follows news correspondent Richard Engel as he dared to fire up a fresh-out-of-the-box MacBook Air (NASDAQ:AAPL) in a hotel room, and use an Android (NASDAQ:GOOG) device to access Olympic websites. "We're gonna see what happens when we turn them on in Russia," Engel says forebodingly.

With the help of security expert Kyle Wilhoit, Engel was set up with dummy online accounts which bore his name.

"Almost immediately, we were hacked," Engel reports. "Malicious software hijacked our phone before we even finished our coffee -- stealing my information and giving hackers the option to tap and record my phone calls." Back at the hotel room, the NBC correspondent reports that the MacBook was also hacked.

Sounds terrifying, no? Well, Engel and his expert did a little more than just turn on their devices. They purposely clicked on, downloaded, and installed malware known to compromise security -- a recipe for disaster that's certainly not confined to Russia.

Cybersecurity expert Robert Graham of ErrataSec blasted the NBC News segment in a blog post, calling it "wrong in every salient detail."

"Absolutely 0% of the story was about turning on a computer and connecting to a Sochi network," Graham writes. "One-hundred percent 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.'"

In fact, Wilhoit publicly acknowledged the misleading report in a tweet Wednesday. "Unfortunately, the editing got the best of the story. Cut a lot of the technical/context details out."

Following the backlash, an NBC spokesperson told Business Insider that Graham's claims were "completely without merit" and explained the story was intended to demonstrate how easily a non-expert could become a hacking victim.

"Just like any regular user, Richard went online, searched sites and was very quickly targeted and received a tailored fake message designed to trick him into downloading the software," the spokesperson said.

Take a look at the story that aired below and judge for yourself whether NBC played fast and loose with the facts.

(See also: Gay Rights Protests Against Olympic Sponsors Continue Into Opening Ceremony)
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