Friday, October 31, 2014

DELETIONS ON ATTKISSON'S SCREEN? NO HANDS ON THE KEYBOARD? YES -- BUT NEVER BOTH AT THE SAME TIME
(updated)


Sharyl Attkisson, the former CBS reporter turned wingnut hero, has a new book out in which she claims that sinister forces from the government invaded her computer and monkeyed with her data. She's now released a video purporting to show what happened:
In her new book, "Stonewalled," Attkisson details how her computers were hacked in late 2012 during her reporting on Benghazi. Attkisson alleges that government agencies were behind the attack....

There is no way to confirm from the video alone that a hack is actually taking place. But Attkisson's decision to release the video suggests she plans on using it to make her case. Attkisson will give her first television interview to Bill O'Reilly, of Fox News, on Monday.
The Washington Post's Erik Wemple quotes Attkisson's book, in which she says the attack in the video happened in September 2013 when, she says, the White House was complaining to CBS about her reporting. She writes:
That very night, with [White House officials Eric] Schultz, [Jay] Carney, and company freshly steaming over my Benghazi reporting, I'm home doing final research and crafting questions for the next day’s interview with [Thomas] Pickering. Suddenly data in my computer file begins wiping at hyperspeed before my eyes. Deleted line by line in a split second: it's gone, gone, gone. I press the mouse pad and keyboard to try to stop it, but I have no control. The only time I've seen anything like this is in those movies where the protagonist desperately tries to copy crucial files faster than the antagonist can remotely wipe them.

Here's the video.

The curious thing about the video is that Atkisson says the alterations are happening while she has no hands on the keyboard, but when she briefly pans to the untouched keyboard, we don't see the screen, and when she's focused on the screen, we don't see the keyboard. She never pulls her phone hand far enough back to show both at the same time, so we never see the screen alterations happening without her input. Did she just fail, in her haste, to give us the really incriminating shot? Or is this video not what she says it is?

I'm not the only one who's skeptical of Atkisson's claims. Robert Graham, in a post at the blog Errata Security, says that a lot of the claims in excerpts from her book don't pass his smell test. Here's a small sample of what Graham writes:

Attkisson quotes one expert as saying intrusions of this caliber are "far beyond the the abilities of even the best nongovernment hackers", while at the same time quoting another expert saying the "ISP address" is a smoking gun pointing to a government computer.

Both can't be true. Hiding ones IP address is the first step in any hack. You can't simultaneously believe that these are the most expert hackers ever for deleting log files, but that they make the rookie mistake of using their own IP address rather than anonymizing it through Tor or a VPN. It's almost always the other way around: everyone (except those like the Chinese who don't care) hides their IP address first, and some forget to delete the log files....

Attkisson quotes an expert as identifying an "ISP address" of a government computer. That's not a term that has any meaning. He probably meant "IP address" and she's misquoting him.

Attkisson says "Suddenly data in my computer file begins wiping at hyperspeed before my very eyes. Deleted line by line in a split second". This doesn't even make sense. She claims to have videotaped it, but if this is actually a thing, it sounds like more something kids do to scare people, not what real "sophisticated" hackers do.

They also purportedly did this deleting in the middle of the evening, when an episode of Dancing with the Stars featuring Valerie Harper dancing to "Some Kind of Wonderful" was on, and when Attkisson was actually working. Wouldn't a sophisticated hacker have trashed files when Attkisson couldn't see the hack in progress, and thus couldn't catch it on video? Wouldn't that go along with concealing the IP address? Or am I missing something here?

Graham adds:

Some might believe this post is from political bias instead of technical expertise. The opposite is true. I'm a right-winger. I believe her accusations that CBS put a left-wing slant on the news. I believe the current administration is suppressing information about the Benghazi incident. I believe journalists with details about Benghazi have been both hacked and suppressed. It's just that in her case, her technical details sounds like a paranoid conspiracy theory.
But it's believable enough for Fox News:
Attkisson will give her first television interview to Bill O'Reilly, of Fox News, on Monday.
Yup -- the night before Election Day.

****

UPDATE: Media Matters quotes four techies who don't think this is hacking. Here's one:

Matthew Brothers-McGrew, a senior specialist at Interhack Corp. in Columbus, Ohio, said that sometimes computers "malfunction, a key can get stuck, sometimes dirt can get under a keyboard and a key will inadvertently be held down." He explained that sometimes there can be software issues "where the computer will think a key is held down in fact it is not," and said that his firm tested holding down the backspace key on a computer in their offices, and found "if you have Word open it will continually backspace text at about the same rate we are seeing in the video."
Two of them add that someone with access to a document could just delete it without erasing it character by character.

****

UPDATE, NOVEMBER 8: Please read what John Sawyer says in comments. He describes exactly what I think happened.

12 comments:

Ken_L said...

Hey look it's tough trying to sell a book to conservatives these days. The competition is fierce. Any little gimmick to get a bit of publicity is all good, and it's not like anyone can prove she's lying.

Aunt Snow said...

Indeed, why would a hacker edit her document instead of just deleting it entirely? Seems dumb.

Jack said...

The experts are right about stuck keys. I have had this very thing happen to me a handful of times over the years, although usually while using a web browser, so while the page scrolled wildly and uncontrollably, nothing was deleted.

If you're paranoid and predisposed by months of hysterical Snowwald reporting to believe that the government is literally watching every move of every American, and if you have the amplified sense of victimization that all conservatives have, it's easy to see how in her delusional state Cheryl Attkisson thought someone was, you know, pressing a remote delete key while she was typing, in order to ... you know ... stop her from reporting bad stuff about them?

How fucking delusional does a person have to be to believe this story?

Sadly, tens of millions *will* believe it. They fell for all the Greenwald/Snowden lies and exaggerations; they'll believe the NSA is reading our screens as we typing and sharing control of our keyboard with us.

These stories are going to send more than a few mentally ill people over the edge. Just as every cold is Ebola during the height of an Ebola panic, every minor computer malfunction is Obama tyranny during the height of Obama panic -- a panic now in its seventh year.

Victor said...

Yes, she's telling the truth - because everyone's first instinct when their computer goes ka-blooey, is to take your cell phone out and record what's happening.
Not shut the computer off, and reboot it.
No.
It's to record it.

I call major BS!

Yastreblyansky said...

And the verdict is in. Either malicious fraud or stupidity aggravated by fraudulence.

Victor said...

Yas,
Probably both!

Steve M. said...

The consensus on the left seems to be a malfunctioning laptop, but I vote malicious fraud. She knows hat publicizing a book is a multimedia process these days. She needed a visual for Fox News and the Web. Just having files go missing wouldn't be visual. This, by contrast, is visually compelling. It'll play on a loop every time she's on Fox, or is discussed on Fox. And it's already gone viral online.

Marvin Sammons said...

was her editor. He was getting rid of the garbage she had just written by vnc.

Bix said...

I don't think it's a real hacking attempt, but she's not claiming this incident took place in 2012. She dates it as September 2013 (when the episode of DWTS aired) in the book: http://wapo.st/1wVs08E

John Sawyer said...

Literally unbelievable. As some other commenters have noted here, mouse or trackpad clicks can be clearly heard in her video (it's probably trackpad clicks--she's using an Apple Macbook Pro, whose entire trackpad is the clicker). She may not have even set up an external keyboard and/or mouse to pull this off, because you'll notice her video doesn't show the trackpad--at most, the bottom of the frame goes briefly to the lower row of keys, but doesn't go further down to show the trackpad, and while the text is being monkeyed with, she doesn't show the portion of the keyboard where the Delete key is located. But most tellingly, each of the audible clicks PRECEDES an action that can then be seen onscreen, such as pulling down menus and clicking buttons, so she can't claim that the undesired event first occurred onscreen, after which she clicked the trackpad to try to stop it. Obviously a remote hacker can't physically push on a mouse or trackpad clicker from a distance. She's doing it all herself, and she just didn't figure out that people know these obvious things. This says something about her state of mind, if she's so unaware that other people know such elementary things.

In an interview that aired today (Nov 7) on MSNBC between Attkisson and Chris Hayes (http://www.msnbc.com/all-in/watch/chris-hayes-interviews-sharyl-attkisson-355291203735), Attkisson said some odd things about her video:

Hayes: "I'm a little confused. Is the claim that that is documentation of some government entity hacking your computer in real time?"

Attkisson: "No. Thank you for asking. And it was not released just to clarify a response to questions about the case, for example. It was just a video pre-release before the book came out. That I would call a visual anecdote of something that happened some months after, that three computer forensics exams confirmed these highly sophisticated intrusions.…What really happened, if you look in the first couple of seconds, pages were wiping in a matter of a couple of seconds--it wasn't a sort of backspace key, which doesn't exist, or a delete key on the computer being held down…"

It's hard to tell what she's saying here. My first impression was that she's saying her video isn't a realtime capture of one of these supposed hacking events, but maybe a simulation she put together later as an example of what she claims happened. But a few minutes later into the interview, she says she took this video during a particular day when she was having trouble with her computer, and suspects it was due to some kind of hacking. She's also wrong when she says the first couple seconds show entire pages being wiped--what's actually shown are some words and several lines being deleted (with at most a paragraph being removed), and it also shows large portions of text merely being selected/highlighted, and then unhighlighted, without being deleted. And, there's the issue of her saying that a backspace key doesn't exist. This is true only in the sense that on a Mac keyboard, it's not labeled "Backspace", but "Delete" instead, but it performs the same function.

I'm not going so far as to claim that her forensics experts must be wrong in their evaluation that she was being monitored at some point, but it's clear that this video proves nothing of what she's claiming they found, and shows every bit of evidence of having been faked by her.

Steve M. said...

Than you, John. I think you've got it exactly right.

John Sawyer said...

Thanks, Steve. I call it like I see it!