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....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:
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.
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.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?
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.
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.