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Comcast or Verizon could buy Fox Studios and cable networks.
Enlarge / FCC Chairman Ajit Pai testifying before the Senate Commerce Committee in September 2016.Getty Images | Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call reader comments 75 Share this story Comcast, AT&T, and industry lobbyist groups representing ISPs are heaping praise on Ajit Pai, who was appointed Federal Communications Commission chairman by President Donald Trump yesterday. Pai, a Republican commissioner and former lawyer for Verizon, has vowed to undo net neutrality rules and opposed numerous consumer protection regulations passed under his predecessor Tom Wheeler. With Republicans taking control of the commission, Pai has promised "to remove outdated and unnecessary regulations" imposed on ISPs. "We commend [Pai's] tireless efforts to develop and support policies that benefit American consumers and spur greater investment and innovation in broadband technologies to connect all Americans and drive job creation," Comcast Senior Executive VP David Cohen said in a statement yesterday. "This is a terrific appointment for the American consumer and the companies the FCC regulates and we look forward to continuing to work with Chairman Pai in his new role.” AT&T Senior Executive VP Bob Quinn concurred, saying that "No one is more prepared to reframe the agency to address the needs of this rapidly changing marketplace.

Chairman Pai will work with his fellow Commissioners to quickly and decisively put back in place the commonsense regulatory framework necessary to support the President’s agenda for job creation, innovation and investment." Consumer advocacy groups, meanwhile, are worried that Pai will consistently obey the bidding of ISPs who want more mergers and fewer consumer protection regulations. Now, we shouldn't read too much into the statements of ISPs.

Telcos regulated by the FCC are always inclined to publicly congratulate the commission's new chair and pledge to work cooperatively with the agency—an ISP isn't going to accomplish its regulatory goals by publicly declaring itself an enemy of the regulator on his first day. Wheeler received similar praise from AT&T and Comcast when he was chosen by then-President Barack Obama in 2013, and Wheeler ended up being a fierce opponent of the cable and wireless industries. But in this case, there is plenty of reason to believe Pai's agenda will line up with the agendas of the country's major ISPs.

During the Obama years, Pai repeatedly sided with ISPs against consumer advocacy groups and Wheeler on issues such as net neutrality, common carrier regulation, online privacy rules, paid data cap exemptions, rules encouraging alternatives to rented set-top boxes, the FCC's broadband speed standard, and more. Despite campaign, Trump FCC looks good for ISPs Trump and ISPs weren't close friends during his campaign. Cohen was a fundraiser for Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, while AT&T regulatory lobbyist and longtime GOP supporter Jim Cicconi supported Clinton too, saying, “This year I think it’s vital to put our country’s well being ahead of party." While campaigning, Trump promised to block AT&T's attempt to buy Time Warner and said he'd consider breaking up the six-year-old merger of Comcast and NBCUniversal.

But now that he's president, it's much less clear whether the Trump administration will take either of those actions.

And with Pai in charge, ISPs are more likely to get what they want at the FCC under Trump than under Clinton, who supported net neutrality rules and wanted to boost broadband competition. Michael Powell, a former FCC chairman who is now the cable industry's top lobbyist as head of NCTA—The Internet & Television Association, said that "During his tenure on the Commission, Chairman Pai has consistently demonstrated a common-sense philosophy that consumers are best served by a robust marketplace that encourages investment, innovation and competition." The American Cable Association, which represents small and medium-sized providers, said that Pai "respects and understands the concerns of independent cable operators, especially in those cases where they have been required to shoulder enormous regulatory burdens to the same extent as much larger providers, such as new obligations to comply with the Open Internet's enhanced transparency rules." The United States Telecom Association called Pai "an exceptional choice to head the Federal Communications Commission," and urged him to "ensure our nation's telecommunications innovators can invest and compete on a level regulatory playing field." Meredith Attwell Baker, a former FCC commissioner who now leads CTIA, the top mobile industry lobby group, said that Pai "has championed spectrum and infrastructure reform and is a leading voice for a common sense approach to open Internet and privacy," and praised his work on "reducing regulatory barriers to broadband deployment." CenturyLink said that Pai "will bring a much-needed free market approach to his new role," and that "Hopefully this will result in the thoughtful elimination of outdated, unnecessary federal regulations that stifle investment and no longer reflect rapidly evolving consumer demands and the entry of innovative, new competitors.” Pai will be “formidable opponent” Consumer advocates, meanwhile, are worried about Pai not just because of his policy proposals but also because they believe he will be skilled in enacting his agenda. "The public interest community will not be happy about Commissioner Pai’s promotion to chairman," said Andrew Schwartzman, a Georgetown Law lecturer who led the Media Access Project, a public interest telecommunications law firm, from 1978 to 2012. "He is not only an outspoken detractor from many of the important advances we obtained under Chairman Wheeler, but he is also extremely smart and knowledgeable. He will be a formidable opponent." Consumer advocacy group Public Knowledge CEO Gene Kimmelman noted that "Commissioner Pai has a history of attacking consumer protections, from the Open Internet order to our right to privacy online." But the group will not give up on lobbying the commission, saying, "we urge Chairman Pai to preserve consumer protections and to focus on driving down prices and expanding choices for all essential communications services while preserving the Commission’s recent pro-competitive and consumer protection rules and actions.”
Enlarge / AT&T will own a bunch of new media properties if it is allowed to buy Time Warner.Aurich Lawson reader comments 86 Share this story Donald Trump’s victory in the presidential election might be big trouble for AT&T’s attempt to buy Time Warner, and it could even threaten Comcast’s 5-year-old acquisition of NBCUniversal. We can’t be certain that Trump will follow through on statements he made during his campaign or whether the people he appoints as regulators will achieve Trump’s desired outcomes. But we do know that just a few weeks ago, Trump said he intends to block the AT&T/Time Warner deal and wants the government to consider breaking up Comcast and NBC. In a speech in October, Trump declared his opposition to both mergers while discussing his dislike of how media organizations covered the election. News organizations were trying to “suppress my vote and the voice of the American people,” Trump said. “As an example of the power structure I'm fighting, AT&T is buying Time Warner and thus CNN, a deal we will not approve in my administration because it's too much concentration of power in the hands of too few,” he said. Shortly after, Trump declared that Comcast shouldn’t be allowed to own NBC. “Comcast's purchase of NBC concentrated far too much power in one massive entity that is trying to tell the voters what to think and what to do,” Trump said. “Deals like this destroy democracy and we'll look at breaking that deal up and other deals like that. That should never, ever have been approved in the first place, they're trying to poison the mind of the American voter." But now that Trump has won, it isn't clear that his administration will follow through. “It’s just impossible to know,” Harold Feld, senior VP of consumer advocacy group Public Knowledge, told Ars today. “Trump has said a lot of contradictory things. There are things that he says that he may not have the capacity to do, but it's impossible to know at this point how real his populist rhetoric is going to be in terms of policy.” The conservative wing of the Republican party that would be expected to approve AT&T/Time Warner "lost very thoroughly in the primaries," Feld noted. But the Republicans serving on the FCC today, Ajit Pai and Michael O'Rielly, don't seem likely to lead opposition to the merger. "The ideal FCC chairman or commissioner for Trump would have to be somebody who is pro-regulatory in a lot of ways and anti-regulatory in a lot of ways," Feld said. At this point, the merger's fate in Washington is "a big maybe," he said. Doug Brake, a telecommunications policy analyst at the Information Technology & Innovation Foundation, agreed that Trump's campaign statement isn't necessarily a guarantee that he will try to stop the merger. "Part of Trump’s election strategy was staying unpredictable—it was hard to pin him down on even some of his most prominent policy positions," Brake told Ars. "So it is unclear how strongly he feels about an AT&T/Time Warner tie-up or really any other telecommunications issue. That said, he was quite clear in his distaste for the merger, and no doubt the odds of its successful completion are lower this morning than yesterday." AT&T's $85.4 billion purchase of Time Warner—a company that is completely separate from the similarly named Time Warner Cable—will be reviewed by the Department of Justice and likely by the Federal Communications Commission. Even if the DOJ doesn't have a strong legal case against the merger, after Trump nominates an attorney general he could issue “instructions to try to pursue something anyway,” Feld said. But there is a big difference between Trump opposing a merger and actually blocking it. "A president cannot simply block a merger by fiat," Brake said. "The Department of Justice would have to bring suit and win in court, or if it does end up in front of the FCC, a Trump chairman could potentially send it to an administrative law judge or propose such onerous conditions that the parties abandon the deal. Either way, this will not be an immediate process." When contacted by Ars about Trump’s opposition to the merger, AT&T pointed to comments made this morning by AT&T CFO John Stephens. “From a company perspective, we really look forward to working with President-elect Trump and his transition team,” Stephens said. “His policies and his discussions about infrastructure investment, economic development, and American innovation all fit right in with AT&T's goals.” The AT&T/Time Warner deal “is all about innovation and economic development, consumer choice, and investment in infrastructure with regard to providing a great 5G mobile broadband experience,” Stephens said. Forcing Comcast and NBC to split is a tall order Breaking up Comcast/NBC would be more complicated than stopping AT&T/Time Warner because the companies already merged in 2011 after a lengthy review by the DOJ and FCC, which imposed conditions to mitigate the merger’s potential effects on competitors. The most famous government-initiated telecom breakup in the US, of course, was the breakup of the AT&T Bell System during President Ronald Reagan’s first term. The Bell System breakup was initiated by the DOJ, which could theoretically take the same role against Comcast/NBC under Trump. “AT&T is the classic breakup case,” economist Hal Singer, a senior fellow at George Washington Institute of Public Policy, told Ars. “You could go after [Comcast/NBC]. But what's weird is [Trump] would have to appoint folks who kind of fit in that populist framework and it doesn’t seem to me that he’s going there.” For example, Trump hired Jeffrey Eisenach of the American Enterprise Institute to help him develop a telecom plan during his campaign. Eisenach is described by Politico as "a crusader against regulation," and he's a staunch opponent of net neutrality rules. “He's been appointing people who are fairly traditional conservatives, but he's been running on this populist notion of going after big companies and concentration of media,” Singer said. The fate of AT&T/Time Warner will also depend heavily on Trump's appointments, he said. It's not just the DOJ that could take aim at Comcast/NBC, Feld said. The FCC could break the company up by imposing rules that limit telecom and media consolidation, he said. “There are a number of means through which the FCC could, by rulemakings, force open the programming contracts, limit the size of the cable operators, go after the bundle of services with rules about cross-ownership of broadcast stations and cable and programming networks and broadband,” Feld said. But Trump is also a declared opponent of net neutrality rules who has promised to issue a temporary moratorium on federal regulations in general. In the telecom policy world, regulators who oppose net neutrality and increased regulation of ISPs aren’t usually the ones trying to stop big telecom mergers. To break up Comcast and NBC, “you’d have to have an FCC that was much more activist than the [Tom] Wheeler FCC," Feld said. Comcast declined comment when contacted by Ars. Populist rhetoric from Trump could end up giving way to a more traditional antitrust review that weighs the competitive effects of a merger. Singer pointed out in a recent article on AT&T/Time Warner that “in the world inhabited by regulators, antitrust lawyers, and economists… merger policy is based on the strict application of rules and precedent to the specific facts of the case.” But it’s still possible that Trump could appoint a DOJ chief who is willing to pursue Trump’s “personal vendetta” against certain media organizations, Singer said. In the same speech in which Trump criticized telecom mergers, he took aim at Amazon’s relationship with The Washington Post. “Amazon, which through its ownership controls The Washington Post, should be paying massive taxes it’s not paying," Trump said. "It’s a very unfair playing field and you see what that's doing to department stores all over the country." Amazon does not own the Post, but the paper is owned by Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos. In any case, Trump’s criticism about Amazon and the Post “is not a traditional antitrust concern. It sounds like more of a personal vendetta,” Singer said. FCC Chairman Wheeler, a Democrat, is likely to step down from his chairmanship after Trump is inaugurated. Trump would then appoint a successor, giving Republicans a majority on the FCC. We’ll have more coverage of the upcoming transition in the near future.
Mike Mozartreader comments 41 Share this story Advocacy groups are urging US regulators to consider blocking AT&T's purchase of Time Warner Inc., but AT&T may be able to avoid any review by the Federal Communications Commission. The merger will be analyzed by the Department of Justice, but AT&T has said the FCC will be involved only if any FCC licenses are transferred to AT&T.

A TV station is an example of something that requires an FCC license, but AT&T said that it and Time Warner are still "determining which FCC licenses, if any, will be transferred to AT&T in connection with the transaction." The reason for this uncertainty is that "despite its big media footprint, Time Warner has only one FCC-regulated broadcast station, WPCH-TV in Atlanta," Reuters reported. "Time Warner could sell the license to try to avoid a formal FCC review, several analysts said." (Time Warner Inc. is completely separate from Time Warner Cable, which was sold to Charter this year after an FCC review.) WPCH-TV, which is unaffiliated with any major network, is a small station that broadcasts re-runs and old movies, and it's likely worth very little relative to the $85.4 billion AT&T/Time Warner deal, Bloomberg reported. "Companies use sales, transfers, and spinoffs around larger deals in order to face friendlier regulatory review 'all the time,' Bloomberg Intelligence analyst Geetha Ranganathan said in an interview," Bloomberg wrote. Transfer of a license to a third party would still require FCC review, but it would be separate from the AT&T/Time Warner transaction. Multichannel News raised the possibility that there might be other FCC licenses involved, but acknowledged that it isn't clear. "Some analysts, and one veteran communications attorney, thought there might be some satellite uplink licenses, but an FCC source said they did not know of any," the news site reported. We've asked AT&T if the WPCH-TV license is the only one that would potentially be transferred, but haven't heard back yet. We've also sought comment from Time Warner and the FCC. Antitrust and the public interest AT&T has frequently clashed with the FCC over net neutrality rules and other regulations, so it wouldn't be surprising if AT&T wants to avoid review by the agency.

AT&T has said one of the benefits of owning Time Warner is that the company is less heavily regulated than AT&T's existing businesses. The DOJ and FCC follow very different processes when reviewing mergers.

The FCC can block a merger if it doesn't serve the public interest, and the burden is on the merging parties to prove that Americans will benefit. The DOJ can block mergers by suing in federal court, but the federal agency faces the burden of proof and must convince a court that the merger would violate antitrust laws.

The DOJ and FCC coordinate on merger reviews when they're both involved, and their combined influence was enough to sink Comcast's attempt to purchase Time Warner Cable in 2015 and AT&T's attempt to purchase T-Mobile USA in 2011. With AT&T/Time Warner, the DOJ could be going it alone. The FCC says that its own decisions on mergers "must be based on the public record" developed through the public comment process.

By contrast, the DOJ's antitrust authorities "conduct a confidential investigation, and if they believe that consummation of the merger would violate the antitrust laws, they must go to court to stop the merger or get approval for a settlement that will prevent any competitive harms." Still, the DOJ by itself could either try to block the merger or allow it to proceed only if AT&T signs a consent decree with conditions designed to prevent competitive harm, similar to the decree signed by Comcast when it bought NBCUniversal.

Consumer advocates, AT&T's competitors, and lawmakers may try to influence the DOJ by speaking out against the deal. Potential harm to competitors Consumer advocacy group Public Knowledge argued that the merger raises many competitive concerns.

As Public Knowledge Senior Counsel John Bergmayer said: Vertical integration between programming and distribution in particular raises a number of issues. [AT&T-owned] DirecTV, for instance, might favor Time Warner content, crowding out or refusing to carry alternative and independent programming that viewers might prefer.

AT&T might also make it more expensive or difficult for competitors to DirecTV or to its streaming service to access Time Warner programming, hoping to drive customers to its own platforms.

AT&T could also give preferential treatment to its own programming and services on its broadband networks—indeed, it has already announced that it plans to zero-rate its upcoming online video service.
Increased vertical integration could also increase AT&T's opportunities for data collection, which has relevance to FCC privacy initiatives.
Similar sorts of self-dealing and discrimination issues have been at the center of the review of similar deals in the past, such as Comcast's acquisition of NBCUniversal. Bergmayer said the merger highlights the importance of the FCC's proposal to impose new privacy rules on ISPs, which would require ISPs to get opt-in consent from consumers before sharing Web browsing data and other private information with advertisers and other third parties. Opposition to AT&T/Time Warner may also come from the American Cable Association, which represents small- and medium-sized cable companies that compete against AT&T's home Internet and TV services. "As the FCC has found in past mergers, combining valuable content with pay-TV distribution causes harm to consumers and competition in the pay-TV market," the group's CEO, Matthew Polka, said. "If an AT&T/Time Warner deal is forged as reported, the vertical integration of the merged company must be an issue that regulators closely examine." US Sen.

Al Franken (D-Minn.) pledged to scrutinize the deal, saying that he's "skeptical of huge media mergers because they can lead to higher costs, fewer choices, and even worse service for consumers." Sens. Mike Lee (R-Utah) and Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), leaders of the antitrust subcommittee, said that "an acquisition of Time Warner by AT&T would potentially raise significant antitrust issues, which the subcommittee would carefully examine.” Sen.

Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) urged regulators to block the merger. Republican Presidential Nominee Donald Trump said his administration would block the AT&T/Time Warner merger "because it’s too much concentration of power in the hands of too few." A spokesperson for Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton said she "certainly thinks regulators should look at it." AT&T argues that customers will benefit from the merger by receiving "enhanced access to premium content on all their devices, new choices for mobile and streaming video services, and a stronger competitive alternative to cable TV companies." With AT&T's wireless network and Time Warner's programming, "the combined company will strive to become the first US mobile provider to compete nationwide with cable companies in the provision of bundled mobile broadband and video," AT&T said. "And it will deliver more innovation with new forms of original content built for mobile and social, which builds on Time Warner’s HBO Now and the upcoming launch of AT&T’s [online streaming] offering DirecTV Now." AT&T says it expects to close the Time Warner merger by the end of 2017.
Enlarge / A Comcast service vehicle.Justin Sullivan/Getty Images reader comments 37 Share this story The Federal Trade Commission is worried that it may no longer be able to regulate companies such as Comcast, Google, and Verizon unless a recent court ruling is overturned. The FTC on Thursday petitioned the 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals for a rehearing in a case involving AT&T’s throttling of unlimited data plans.

A 9th Circuit panel previously ruled that the FTC cannot punish AT&T, and the decision raises questions about the FTC’s ability to regulate any company that operates a common carrier business such as telephone or Internet service. While the FTC's charter from Congress prohibits it from regulating common carriers, the agency has previously exercised authority to regulate these companies when they offer non-common carrier services.

But the recent court ruling said that AT&T is immune from FTC oversight entirely, even when it’s not acting as a common carrier. It isn’t clear whether the ruling sets an ironclad precedent preventing the FTC from regulating any company with a common carrier business.

But the FTC’s petition for a rehearing (full text) describes that outcome as a real possibility.

The FTC wrote: The panel’s ruling creates an enforcement gap that would leave no federal agency able to protect millions of consumers across the country from unfair or deceptive practices or obtain redress on their behalf. Many companies provide both common-carrier and non-common-carrier services—not just telephone companies like AT&T, but also cable companies like Comcast, technology companies like Google, and energy companies like ExxonMobil (which operate common carrier oil pipelines).

Companies that are not common carriers today may gain that status by offering new services or through corporate acquisitions.

For example, AOL and Yahoo, which are not common carriers, are (or soon will be) owned by Verizon.

The panel’s ruling calls into question the FTC’s ability to protect consumers from unlawful practices by such companies in any of their lines of business. The Federal Communications Commission regulates common carriers such as landline and mobile phone companies and Internet service providers, "but it lacks authority over other products or services, such as e-mail and e-commerce" and doesn't have the FTC's authority to seek refunds for consumers, the petition said. The FCC's recent decision to reclassify broadband providers as common carriers increases the potential impact of the AT&T ruling, the FTC argued. "For example, Comcast, the nation’s largest cable provider (and the owner of NBCUniversal), is now a common carrier because it provides broadband service," the FTC said. "Technology giant Google, which runs a variety of businesses, provides common-carrier broadband service through its Google Fiber subsidiary.

Dish Network, a satellite television provider, also provides satellite broadband.

All these companies have been subject to FTC enforcement actions—Google four times since 2011—but may now seek to shield all of their conduct from consumer protection enforcement." The "enforcement gap" could be particularly severe in data privacy and security. "The FTC is the nation’s primary protector of consumer data privacy, but under the panel’s ruling it could be powerless against any company that provides a common-carrier service," the FTC said. "Consumers would have no protection from breach or misuse of their personal information or practices like false advertising or improper billing." The ruling that went against the FTC (full text) was issued by a panel of three judges.

The FTC's petition last week seeks an en banc hearing in front of 11 judges; if that fails, the FTC can appeal to the US Supreme Court. The FTC argues that the appeals court panel ruling conflicts with prior decisions of the 9th Circuit and other appeal courts. "This Court has held that the same company may be a common carrier 'in some instances but not in others, depending on the nature of the activity which is subject to scrutiny,'" the FTC said.

The commission also argued that the FTC Act of 1914 was passed at a time when "common carrier" clearly referred to the activity of a company and not the company's overall status. FTC Chairwoman Edith Ramirez has also argued that Congress should remove the common carrier exemption, saying that it is an outdated relic from an era when telecommunications companies were highly regulated monopolies that didn't also own a variety of unrelated services.
EnlargeNBCUniversal Warning: This piece contains minor spoilers for the most recent episode of Mr. Robot (S2E9) reader comments 1 Share this story Time and time again, Mr. Robot has proven to be a show that prides itself on extreme attention to detail. Whether it involves hiring ex-FBI employees as consultants or tracking down the duo behind the Full House theme, the series wants to ground its high-stakes story in a healthy dose of realism.  “The notion of there being an E-Corp, a conglomerate in charge of 70 percent of the world’s debt, is a big pill to swallow," Kor Adana, staff writer and the show's lead tech producer, told Ars recently. "The way I see it, anything we can do to ground the show in reality with all the other tools at our disposal, the better it is to sell this version of reality." In the series' latest episode, hero-hacker Elliot Alderson launches an attack script called crackSIM from a real-world device—Pwnie Express' PwnPhone—to allow him to eavesdrop on a cell phone call.

As superhuman as the attack seems, it's yet another realistic portrayal from Adana and his team. Yes, this hack is technically possible.
It's also possible for an attacker to eavesdrop on a cell phone call.

But this being a ~50 minute cable series, creative license does ultimately rear its head.

And unfortunately, the hack Elliot used wouldn't work to do the eavesdropping as we understand infosec today.
Instead, the show (rightfully) took a few artistic liberties when demonstrating how such an attack would happen. Download video PwnieExpress / NBCUniversal A Pwnie party Ars got a bit of a preview of the attack from the folks at Pwnie Express.

As they discussed with us on this week's Decrypted podcast (embedded below), the company was contacted by the producers of Mr. Robot to take part in the plot. Pwnie was able to take a small role in discussing what is and isn't capable with the series staff during production, and ultimately the team was thrilled with the results. (After all, as the clip above shows, Elliot calls the phone the ultimate hacking device. Later in the episode, this attack earns him the title of "master" from a group of international hacker mercenaries called the Dark Army.) We've gone hands on with the Pwn Phone in its previous incarnation and once even used a similar device on an NPR reporter (don't worry, he agreed to it).

But since the Pwn Phone plays such a prominent role in this hack on this show, we wanted to talk with Pwnie's vice president of marketing Dmitri Vlachos and director of product development (and former Air Force cyber operator) Yolanda Smith about this "crackSIM" attack.

Even if it's been fictionalized, could someone pull off what Elliot was doing in the real world? Enlarge / The original Pwn Phone, with its external Wi-Fi adaptor case jacked into its USB port, as we saw it in 2014. CrackSIM is not included by default on the Pwn Phone, and that's because it is a fake program scripted by Elliot within the show's universe.

But Smith said there's research that suggests the capability of crackSIM, which broke the encryption on the SIM card, is plausible. Research presented by Karsten Nohl of Security Research Labs at last year's Black Hat demonstrated that if an attacker had physical access to a SIM card, a hard disk full of pre-computed potential keys, and full knowledge of what the response from a phone for an Over The Air (OTA) update message would be, it was possible to grab a single 56-bit DES encryption key from the SIM.

Even SIMs that use Triple DES encryption sometimes downgrade their key to just normal DES when the service they're connected to requests it.

This is the sort of attack that is used in "Stingray" boxes, devices used by law enforcement to track cell phones and intercept their calls. However, Elliot's hack took only seconds.

And that is where, as Smith put it, the show took a bit of "dramatic license." Elliot also appears to clone the SIM card to use it to intercept calls and listen in on his targets rather than intercepting the call Stingray style—a hack that would just give the attacker the ability to imitate the victim and take control of the hacked phone's number rather than intercepting calls.

That's precisely what happened earlier this year when someone took over Black Lives Matter activist DeRay McKesson's phone number and got access to his Twitter account and other accounts through password resets authenticated from the hijacked number. When asked how she would pull off the hack herself, Smith said that the most likely route would be to exploit a known weakness in the SS7 phone network routing protocol. An attacker could, using the victim's phone number, essentially route all the calls to that number through a proxy, allowing "man-in-the-middle" monitoring of calls and SMS messages. (Black Hat, DEFCON, et al: If you're listening, we're ready for next year's Mr. Robot panel.) Another real world alternative would require proximity to the victim—using a femtocell to intercept the calls.

A hacked femtocell would allow direct monitoring of the call without having to crack the SIM, because the femtocell decrypts signals it receives to route them over the Internet. Regardless of the series' staff stretching the truth a tad, the fact that a cable television show is going through the trouble of featuring the Pwn Phone in the first place, and working with consultants and PwnieExpress to ensure the highest degree of realism possible speaks volumes about Mr. Robot and overall interest in modern day infosec. Hopefully, the days of CSI: Cyber-types are long behind us. Note: PwnieExpress enjoyed its Mr. Robot experience so much that the company is promoting the unexpected publicity by offering a giveaway of a Pwn Phone through a contest. Pwnie is also posting links to downloads that will let individuals turn their own Android devices into Pwn Phones. Hear more from the PwnieExpress team about their big cameo (and from one of the writers responsible for last week's episode, Lucy Teitler) on our latest Decrypted podcast.
If you have feedback, show ideas, or even questions for future weeks, get in touch through the comments section, on iTunes, or via e-mail. Host Nathan Mattise will totally upvote your comments in exchange for iTunes ratings.

Listen Direct Download URL (latest episode): Decrypted, Ep. 9: How do you write answers for Mr. Robot's big questions?" Listen or subscribe on Stitchr Listen or subscribe on Soundcloud Subscribe via RSS Subscribe via the iTunes store Also look for Decrypted in podcast listings of the Google Play Music store