back to article Mythbusters busted over RFID gagging

The co-host of popular science television show Mythbusters has backtracked on claims that the Discovery Channel spiked a planned exploration of RFID security after coming under commercial pressure from credit card companies. Previously, Mythbusters co-host Adam Savage told delegates at the Hackers on Planet Earth conference in …


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  1. Gordon Fecyk

    A possible explanation: RFID might just be too technical for MythBusters fans

    I know I kinda spoiled the party yesterday. Sometimes you all just need to run off half-cocked so you can let off steam. I mean, just look at the release of Vista - it took two months for a serious bug to come to light (Vista's Long Goodbye), and you all finally got to release that bottled anger. (angst?)

    Anyway, serious possibility. Rob Rosenberger once asked why don't we have a TV series about computer professionals. We have hospital stories, construction stories, racing stories, cop stories with sometimes confusing technology, even crab fishing stories. Why not stories about IT pros fighting off hackers, cyber-terrorists, virus writers, saving the day from some freak bug in program code, and so on?

    The last time I saw something close to this, where cops were chasing some insider employee who wrote a logic bomb to take down a power grid, their "logic bomb" code was some glitch in an old Amiga text viewer called MuchMore. When you loaded a binary file into MuchMore it displayed this garbage that, if you were geeky enough, almost looked like art.

    And you know how the good guys stopped the logic bomb? By shutting down the system that the logic bomb was supposed to shut down, and then turning it back on after the countdown passed.

    Sheesh. All to save the city from a glitch in an Amiga text viewer.

    Trying to explain RFID to the average MythBusters viewer, while making it interesting to watch, was probably too hard for the producers to accomplish. No explosions, no Kari Byron getting catscanned, nothing visually appealing.

    Adam Savage went off half-cocked, just like the rest of you did, and I'm sure he loved every moment. Great for ratings, because now you're all going to watch the show and edit their Wiki. Probably got more ratings than they would have airing the actual episode.

  2. Jeremy

    Mythbusters journalists?

    I don't think so...

    Of course the CC companies objected to it, and of course that's the reason the segment was canned... You just can't say it on Youtube if you're a popular tv personality...

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up

    Kari Byron is HOT


  4. Adam Williamson
    Thumb Down


    the credit card companies threatened to sue for defamation, and Discovery called Adam into a meeting and said "apologize and spin some bullshit story about how it's all your fault, or you'll never work in this town again".

    Am I the only one not buying this somewhat unconvincing attempt at a whitewash?

  5. Anonymous Coward

    to answer the question

    Which leaves the question of why, if not because of commercial pressure, Mythbusters hasn't tackled RFID security?


    It's nothing interesting to show, an antenna can clone RFID data - wow that'll look great. Oh and you can edit some of the data too. Wow.

    Wake me up when they do a segment on Fortran Programming - that'll get me interested....

    Seriously I cannot think of a way to show this sort of thing on mythbusters (or any TV show) and appeal to more than a thousand people in the entire US.

  6. Tom

    Advertisers don't have to put pressure on journalists

    They just have to drop a hint to the marketing department where the journalists work. Once the ad sales people realize that their commission cheques could be affected they are all over journalists like hair on a dog.

    How often do you see a "this game is crap" review in a gaming magazine?

    How often do you see a good review for a crap game next to a full page ad for the game?

  7. John O'Grady

    You're kidding me...

    Like anyone is going to believe now that Mythbusters wasn't pressured to kill the RFID segment? If Beyond Productions and Discovery aren't going to pony up the reason that RFID is off-limits, then there cannot be a good reason for it.

    Speaking as a mild hacker, the shear amount of documentation out there on how to rip data from an RFID chip at a hundred paces - no matter the manufacture's claim that the chip needs a reader in close proximity to power it up, is astounding. This kind of corporate white-washing is akin to that done on the touchscreen voting machines - and look what happeded with them!

    I picked fire, because assuredly the pants of some of the production company's execs are quite crispy by now...

  8. Anonymous Coward

    Mythbusters & RFID

    I am a fan of the Mythbusters show, but basically their "investigations" have always been pretty low tech. That is a large part of the appeal of the show. I would imagine one reason they might avoid RFID or chip & PIN would simply be that doing a decent job of those would require a higher level of sophistication than their show displays. I don't mean that to sound like a "knock". The fingerprint scanner is a perfect example. Given the traditional tenor of their show, going after the fingerprint scanner with photocopied fingerprints and ballistic gel finger castings is appropriate. Going after the fingerprint scanner with a man-in-the-middle data interception attack is not. Investigating RFID lends itself to the later, not the former, level of investigation.

  9. Alexis Vallance


    From the YouTube video, I understand it was Tori and the producer, not Grant.

    Either way, Savage is only reporting on what he heard second hand from them.

  10. Justin Pasher

    MythBuster busted

    Ahhh, the irony that Adam Savage was wearing his "Make stuff up" shirt in the video from the conference.

  11. Lukin Brewer

    Bizarre and Convoluted?

    Feeding this statement through the ReTruthinator (TM), we get this:

    "If I went into the detail of exactly why this story didn't get filmed, it's so bizarre and convoluted that no one would believe me, but suffice to say it involved the job that I and the rest of the team love, our contracts for that job, a shredder, a wastebin and a marked inability to get any work anywhere ever again."

  12. Erik Charrier

    Corey said the same thing about teeth whitening.

    Last year, in a presentation at the Colorado School of Mines, Tory said the same thing about Discovery killing the U.S. broadcast of an investigation into tooth whitening. I am not aware of any videos of his presentation though. In addition, Tory told us that they had filmed an episode investing the heroics of soldiers who jumped on grenades to save their comrades, but they were not allowed to broadcast it due to legal concerns. Apparently they may have been at risk of being sued over mental anguish if they found it to be false. He didn't tell us what they found...

    If you're interested in trying to verify this, I expect I'm not the only person on campus who remembers Tory's E-days guest appearance.

    It would seem that science takes a back seat to profits these days.

  13. Anonymous Coward


    LOL - I knew your eagerness to believe these conspiracies would blow up in your face one day. Another article of credit to the journalism profession.

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    So, less interesting than credit cards?

    The assertion is that cobbling together an RFID scanner and seeing what you can see, in different locales, or in the lab, is less interesting than the eel-skin wallet myth?

    I, for one, would be interested in what they can show. I also doubt that Savage was as mistaken as he was told to claim. Folding to ad pressure is a proud TV tradition after all.

    To say nothing of choosing your battles.

  15. Bounty

    Tori, Grant, someo

    Maybe it was Tori, maybe it was Grant... someone spoke to laywers... I mean technical people and 1 lawyer... NO, I mean Jamie thought it was going to be boring to show the mythbusters sneaking onto a train. No.. No.. I mean.....

    details get all muddy when they do one of these cover up thingies.

    Seriously, these are people who documented moss gathering on a stone, I'm sure some RFID hacking, and some prop kiosk where they kindly tell everyone who stops to buy crackers, that their "fastrak" details are showing would be fun to watch. They don't go into details on the show, it's not like they document the electron transport chain for vegtables they're screaming at (to show growth patterns.)

  16. Neil Greatorex
    IT Angle


    Forgive me, but where's the IT angle?

    In fact what is the angle? Mythbusters isn't technical, interesting, watcheable, IT related or funny. A rubber crutch would be funnier.

  17. Tony
    Paris Hilton


    Mythbusters did an episode on credit card cloning and hacking, why the reluctance to investigate rfid technology? I smell a fish and it ain't Paris'.

  18. Petrea Mitchell
    Black Helicopters

    Alternate rationalization

    Perhaps this is all part of a clever experiment, to be revealed in an upcoming episode, demonstrating how urban legends spread. Will fans accept Adam's explanation, or will deeply held beliefs about evil companies conspiring to hold back the truth prevail? Tune in next week!

  19. Anonymous Coward
    Paris Hilton

    Yeah, right...

    Sorry, I'm not usually a tinfoil hat type, but I call bull*** on this. Adam's Youtube video strikes me as pretty straightforward, and now Discovery is probably trying to do damage control. I'm with Adam Williamson on this.

    Seriously though, this is one reason the internet kicks "traditional journalist" butt, because it's relatively immune to outside influences like pissed off advertisers.

    Paris, because Kari Byron IS ++HOT++ and we need more "half-naked Kari" episodes

  20. Michael
    Black Helicopters

    National Security

    Clearly, intervened, as RFID chips are in all new passports, it's a National Trac^H^H^HSecurity issue!

    Mine's the one with the tinfoil hood and the faraday cage passport holder...

  21. Mr B

    Mythbusters reporting on Mythbusters' Spiked Segments


    /mine's the ------- one.

  22. Anonymous Coward

    No explosions

    No big sparks flying, no giant engines tearing themselves apart, no dangerous stunts requiring a robotic body double, no lethal chemicals spraying around, no fire crew standing by...

    So no point in making the program, really.

  23. Jesse
    Thumb Up


    This is great, it's like a nerd soap opera!

  24. heystoopid
    Paris Hilton


    Ah , the words " living in denial" rears its ugly head yet again !

  25. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Was this a community wide troll

    I remember Adams silly sticking it to the man shtick, and more than once being sort of disgusted with the viewers for being a bit more analytical than the subject required being supposedly forced to revisit rather dull topics because of some supposed flaw in their testing. So did he finally crack and run a savage burn on the Geeks knowing our weakness for tinfoil hattery it's a possibility.

  26. Peter Hamilton

    Yup...I call bull $#17!

    Those who claim RFID is too complicated or boring for a MB audience aren't taking in to account that it comes down to how you explain it, and how you package and sell it. I'm sure MB would do fine on both counts.

    From observation of previous backtracking and CYA'ing in the US corporate world, I wonder how anyone can't be cynical and see right through tissue paper of lies that are now being spun to save face.

  27. Anonymous Coward

    @boring et al

    After the whole magswipe/degauser segment I don't see how RFID experiments would be any less interesting. I would have been interested by a "covertly slap a RFID on a cast member and track their movements through the day" bit of MB theatre as a sop for the dryer "RFID tech" content.

    As for banks etc, there is a fine line between maintaining confidence in a technology and fostering a dangerous complacency. A good chunk of credit card fraud comes from people believing their cards are "safe". People who understand the weaknesses and limitations of the system are less likely to fall foul of them.

    Working with building security systems and dealing with magswipe - and then RFID - based access devices I found I got a lot more traction with openness and honesty than by false assurances designed to keep people pacified. People deal with the fallibility of mechanical keys every day. When reasonable people are presented the weaknesses of a technology in an accessible way they are usually safer in their day to day actions and less inclined to panic. And that protects the banks bottom line - it just happens to run askew of the marketing department's strategising.

    A creative approach could have made this segment both interesting and valuable - to consumers and banks alike

  28. I. Aproveofitspendingonspecificprojects
    Paris Hilton

    The weather is dull

    ITV have got it taped with full frontal pretty presenters in the morning.

    But it's still the same old same old in a begrudged 2 minute slot.

    The reason is that nobody watches the weather slot, it is not as interesting as some queer talking about Cross Roads or Emerdale Farm.

    And on the other side, the BBC would like to present the weather with Ms Wet T-shirt but the weather isn't always up to it and it is the BBC.

    Their story is that the average punter is not ready for tales about jet streams.

    But the fact is that until you actually DO get "INTO" something, anything is boring. That is why school is boring when you are young and ignorant.

    "Which leaves the question of why, if not because of commercial pressure, Mythbusters hasn't tackled RFID security?


    It's nothing interesting to show. Wow.

    Wake me up when they do a segment on Fortran Programming - that'll get me interested....

    Seriously I cannot think of a way to show this sort of thing on mythbusters (or any TV show) and appeal to more than a thousand people in the entire US."

    A popular conception of the USA is that it is full of retards with guns. Some of them are precocious with GNUs. Enough of them to still be running the planet despite off shoring and Chinese factories.

    The same is true for us in the UK. We are still at the heart and soul of hi-tech -despite everything we read about and despite the bulk of TV and etc being designed for morons.

    It is not that the audience is stupid so much as management is stupid. There is a ceiling involved when management gets set up in such a way. Latency before the problem can be surmounted.

    Someone has to break the mold but while the system is working, no one is going to break anything important. And government is too weak to do anything about it.

    It isn't Lord Beaverbrook or whoever vs the Socialists anymore, it's about the Murdoch Empire versus whichever party's spin doctors.

    There aren't enough Liverpudlians to dent the Sun and there are not enough whingeing citizens to get the rest of our media sorted out.

    It just won't happen.

  29. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    Maybe revealing an algorithm to remove security from the RFID would fall under the DCMA?

  30. Anonymous Coward

    Post Adam a new T-shirt...

    the cash'n'carrion 'irritant' shirt should do fine...

  31. Darren

    re: Kari is hot

    Yes Kari is hot, but she seems to be getting more and more annoying with each episode.

    Maybe they are having legal issues regarding the RFID stuff BECUASE it may be a tad illegal to clone/copy information. Just a thought, I may be hellishly wrong!!

  32. Andrew Norton

    ah, I remmeber when...

    I remember when it was a whole bunch of us, a lot of alcohol, a skateboard, a roll of duct tape, a power extinguisher, and a 10lb hammer named "the Mauler". Happened in Vegas, during filming of BBots season 2. someone said "this reminds me of the story about the JATO car" and I guess Grant was the only one of us there with a clear enough head to remember it and get to a producer. I don't remember Jamie being there though, his one atempt at Battlebots ended badly.

    It's an amusing show, some of the science is a little off in their experiments (the broken cable cutting through people episode springs to mind), but it's fairly good. And yes, after being invovled with Mentorn in the UK (with Robot WArs0 and comedy Central in the US (for BattleBots) it's all about the presentation of what you're trying to explain. I really can't think of an entertaining, or even interesting way to cover this topic, while being legal. The swipe card episode also reminds me of the event I mentioned at the start, as for the whole 2 weeks of filming, I had to get a new keycard to my room nightly, mine always corrupted - annoying when you have just done a 16hours standing in freezing conditions and just want to go to bed, ready to do it the next day.

    Warning, cos memory lane, innit...

  33. Anonymous Coward

    Real Reason is...

    you cant bust the myth without defrauding the system... Fraud is against the law, so you cant prove the myth... Unless like they did with the speed cameras, they set up their own security gate.. but then every system is different so they would have to test every type to bust the myth... afterall you can't say free metro travel is true if you have only broken into your garden shed...

  34. Simon B

    Yet another cover up

    Low and behold all the evidence is given including video footage yet it is still covered up. I know what I believe, and like most other I know Adam's been forced in to silence. Not his fault he has a job he'd like to keep, so do the rest of us.

  35. Ambi Valent
    Black Helicopters


    I wonder where their dummy Buster would be when they are busted by the CIA, NSA, FBI, KGB, TERRORISTS??

  36. Jeckle

    Sounds like a good myth to bust

    Tonight we investigate the real reason Adam retracted his allegations and whether the CC companies really did conspire to get Adam to retract his statement. We also get to see Adam's car blow up just as it allegedly would have if he had not.

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