Leave a comment

Benghazi reporter's hacking scandal might have simple explanation

Benghazi reporter's hacking scandal might have simple explanation
Photo courtesy of Shutterstock

As you know, I always keep mum on political matters. Komando.com isn't right or left - it's all tech, all the time. But when it comes to hacking, government snooping and mysterious computer glitches, I've got a lot to say!

That's why, when I heard about one former CBS News reporter's allegations of government hacking, I had to look into it. Here's what you need to know: Soon after the September 11, 2012, attacks on the U.S. Embassy in Benghazi, Libya, CBS correspondent Sharyl Attkisson claims her laptop computer has hacked. In the summer of 2013, CBS confirmed that the company computer, a MacBook, was indeed breached by an unknown party. CBS' statement says:

Evidence suggests this party performed all access remotely using Attkisson’s accounts. While no malicious code was found, forensic analysis revealed an intruder had executed commands that appeared to involve search and [removal] of data. This party also used sophisticated methods to remove all possible indications of unauthorized activity, and alter system times to cause further confusion.

Attkisson says that she believes it was an attempt to intimidate her from reporting on the issues. Now she has a new book out that suggests the Obama administration was behind the cyberattacks. She also released a video of the supposed hacks taking place. I came across one computer expert's interpretation of the video - and his explanation is a lot less exciting than hacking.

Here's the video from the website, Politico:

As you can see, text from her Word document is being deleted without her touching the computer. She also can't access her drop down menus properly. Now, I'll be the first to admit that our government is certainly capable of doing this. They have the technology. I've also called out the government for its many documented invasions of privacy. It's not outside the realm of possibility that someone might hack journalists in attempts to intimidate them or cover up the truth. But there is also another plausible explanation is happening here.

It could easily be just a stuck Backspace key or possibly a glitch in the keyboard software. While looking at this video in the office, one of my staff, who used to work in tech support at a major university, recalled a number of times students' complaints were resolved simply by moving a book or binder that was inadvertently overlapping the keyboard and holding down a key.

I found one other who agrees. Media Matters interviewed him:

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."

However in all fairness, neither Mr. Brothers-McGrew or I saw the reporter's experience firsthand nor have we examined her computer. I'm just referring to what we see shown on the video. But here's the main flaw with the claim that this video shows hacking taking place: If someone actually had gained the unauthorized access to her computer needed to delete text from a document like the video shows, they would also have all the access needed to delete the entire document without being noticed. It would be much more effective and easier to secretly modify or simply delete data from the file. The computer behavior Ms. Attkisson shows in her video attracts a lot of attention that most hackers or secret government agents would never want.

This doesn't prove that Attkisson wasn't hacked, it just suggests that that's not what's happening in this video. It also demonstrates one of the most common problems I get asked about: Often times, people think they have a virus when it could just be a glitch or error. Click here to find out five ways to tell if you have a virus.

Next Story
View Comments ()
Google wants you to beat the flu
Previous Happening Now

Google wants you to beat the flu

DARPA makes Guinness World Records with 1THz computer chip
Next Happening Now

DARPA makes Guinness World Records with 1THz computer chip