[funsec] Did corporate lawyers put kibosh on 'Mythbusters' RFID episode?
Richard M. Smith
rms at computerbytesman.com
Wed Sep 3 08:04:04 CDT 2008
One of the great things about the Discovery Channel show, Mythbusters
<http://news.cnet.com/8301-13772_3-9882698-52.html> is that it confronts
the realities behind some of the most interesting phenomenons and
That's why, reported the Consumerist
l-episode-exposing-rfid-security-flaws> blog, at a recent conference--it's
not clear which one--Mythbusters co-host Adam Savage was asked why the show
hasn't tackled the technology behind the security limitations of RFID.
His eyes lighting up at the chance to talk about something that clearly was
a memorable experience for him, Savage said the show had actually set out to
do an episode on the vulnerabilities of RFID but encountered some very
In the video, Savage says that a conference call was arranged between
co-host Tory Belleci and Texas Instruments to talk about the RFID
vulnerabilities. But when Bellici and a MythBusters producer got on the call
at the appointed time, "Texas Instruments comes on along with chief legal
counsel for American Express, Visa, Discover, and everybody else....(Bellici
and the MythBusters producer) were way, way out-gunned and (the lawyers)
absolutely made it really clear to Discovery that they were not going to air
this episode talking about how hackable this stuff was, and Discovery backed
way down, being a large corporation that depends upon the revenue of the
advertisers. Now it's on Discovery's radar and they won't let us go near
Savage also said he got chills just from describing the encounter.
I sent a message to Discovery Channel to see if it would confirm Savage's
account, but didn't get an immediate response. I will update this entry when
I hear from them.
For its part, Texas Instruments said things went a little different than the
way Savage remembers it.
In a statement provided to CNET News, TI said lawyers were hardly to blame
for MythBusters dropping the RFID episode.
"In June 2007, MythBusters was interested in pursuing some great
myth-busting ideas for RFID. While in pursuit, they contacted Texas
Instruments' RFID Systems, who is a pioneer of RFID and contactless
technology, for technical help and understanding of RFID in the contactless
payments space," TI spokesperson Cindy Huff said. "Some of the information
that was needed to pursue the program required further support from the
contactless payment companies as they construct their own proprietary
systems for security to protect their customers. To move the process along,
Texas Instruments coordinated a conversation with Smart Card Alliance (SCA)
who invited MasterCard and Visa, on contactless payments to help MythBusters
get the right information. Of the handful of people on the call, there were
mostly product managers and only one contactless payment company's legal
counsel member. Technical questions were asked and answered and we were to
wait for MythBusters to let us know when they were planning on showing the
segment. A few weeks later, Texas Instruments was told by MythBusters that
the storyline had changed and they were pursuing a different angle which did
not require our help."
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