How Apple orchestrated web attack on researchers

The Mac press had a field day nearly destroying the reputations of two security researchers but where they alone in their actions? See proof of how Apple and its PR department were pulling the strings all along.

Last summer, when I wrote "Vicious orchestrated assault on MacBook wireless researchers," it set off a long chain of heated debates and blogs. I had hoped to release the information on who orchestrated the vicious assault, but threats of lawsuits and a spineless company that refused to defend itself meant I couldn't disclose the details. A lot has changed since then: Researcher David Maynor is no longer working for SecureWorks, and he's finally given me permission to publish the details.

The scandal broke when Jim Dalrymple put out a hit piece on security researchers David Maynor and Jon "Johnny Cache" Ellch, saying that their research was a "misrepresentation."  Dalrymple based his conclusion solely on the word of Apple PR director Lynn Fox. David Chartier went even further and said that, "SecureWorks admits to falsifying MacBook wireless hack" based solely on a SecureWorks disclaimer (it's no longer there) that merely reaffirmed what the original video was saying all along--that the hack demonstrated in the video was based on third-party wireless hardware.  I had personally interviewed the two researchers before this whole scandal broke out, and I specifically asked Maynor and Ellch if they were using Apple's Wi-Fi hardware in their official Black Hat demonstration. They clearly said that no Apple Wi-Fi product was used for the exploit. That's why I was shocked to see the researchers blamed for changing their story and "admitting" they made the whole thing up when no one changed the story and no one admitted to anything. Yet the headline from Chartier, along with Dalrymple's story, was blasted all over the Web after it made Digg and Slashdot. Everyone simply assumed Maynor and Ellch were frauds because they supposedly "admitted it."

Through all of this, I've been accused of covering up for my "buddies" and losing my objectivity, but I had never met David Maynor and Jon Ellch--and last summer was my first trip ever to Black Hat and Defcon. It was by mere chance that I overheard them in an interview with another reporter in the press room. I asked them if I could videotape an interview with them afterward, and they said yes--which led to this interview. But when I read the news that the researchers "admitted to falsifying their research," I was shocked, and I almost believed it for a second--until I read the stories and saw that there was no admission but a simple reaffirmation of what had been claimed all along on SecureWorks' Web site in some obscure location that blogger Chartier just *happened* to find. It didn't matter that the so-called "evidence" wasn't an "admission" at all because it looked the part, and that's all that was needed to hang the two researchers and brand them as frauds. But did Chartier really just happen to come across the evidence?

When I called David Maynor to get to the bottom of this, it turned out that Apple PR director Lynn Fox (who was also cited by Jim Dalrymple as proof that the researchers "misrepresented" the research) was the puppetmaster from start to finish. She not only contacted sympathetic bloggers like Chartier and "journalists" like Jim Dalrymple, she was actually the one who got SecureWorks to publish the "clarification" in the first place. Once she got SecureWorks to publish a clarification that merely reiterated the fact that third-party hardware was used in the original video (and it was clearly disclosed in the first 20 seconds of the video that it was third-party hardware), she used that as "incriminating" evidence that the researchers admitted to falsifying the video and shared her "findings" with Apple-friendly press.

[* Update 4/4/2007 - David Chartier disputes he was contacted by Lynn Fox and is complaining that I didn't check with him on this.  That's hardly the issue here and I know for a fact from sources at Apple that Fox contacted the media and planted the "researchers admit to lying" story and handed out the so-called incriminating link to SecureWorks' website.  The fact that Fox did or didn't directly speak with Chartier is completely immaterial and it's been established that Fox did speak with Dalrymple.  Unless Chartier makes it a habit to routinely patrol obscure corners of the SecureWorks website, the information flowed from Lynn Fox to the media and it quickly made its way to David Chartier where he embellished and slandered two security researchers.  Why didn't I email Charier and ask him directly?  Simple, Chartier has been ignoring me when I ask him to explain why he slandered Maynor and Ellch and he had been deleting my posts on his blog asking him to explain the same question.  Chartier now claims he never saw my posts but I explicitly remember my posts on his blog and remembered him dodging the questions on why he slandered Maynor and Ellch.  Chartier can wipe my comments on his blog but he can't wipe it on mine and this thread still sits here with him dodging my question.  Chartier can say he never saw my posts all he wants but he dodged several of my posts on my blog and he erased my posts on his blog and now denies it.  After all that, I wasn't going to waste my time trying to contact someone who dodges my questions and deletes my posts.  He can't deny he slandered David Maynor and Jon Ellch and he won't answer to it.  Unfortunately there are more than 1000 links on Google pointing to Chartier's slanderous blog stating that SecureWorks admits to falsification.  Chartier and Dalrymple who were ultimately manipulated by Lynn Fox's planted story were the focal point of deception and that's why I'm calling these three people out.]

But how did Lynn Fox get SecureWorks to publish a clarification on its Web site? It turned out that Fox had actually wanted an even more incriminating statement from David Maynor himself and sent him an e-mail on 8/15/2006 (two days before the public accusations of fraud hit the Web) demanding that he post a confession word for word. Maynor refused and told Fox to speak to SecureWorks PR, and the two parties came to a compromise on 8/16/2006, where SecureWorks would simply post a clarification. SecureWorks never knew what hit them when the accusations of fraud hit on 8/17/2006 because they figured they were merely posting a clarification that reiterated what they had been saying all along. They had no idea that MacWorld and an unofficial Apple blog would tear them to pieces and simply assumed it was an admission that facts were originally misrepresented. As proof of how this all went down, here is the e-mail Lynn Fox sent to David Maynor demanding that he post the confession publicly. I was given a copy of it on 8/19/2006.

From: Lynn Fox <####@apple.com>
To: David Maynor <####@mac.com>
Cc: Moody David <####@apple.com>, Wiley Hodges <####@apple.com>
Date: Tue Aug 15, 2006 06:14:09 PM PDT
Subject: Your post on SecureWorks website

<<Original Attached>>

David,

Below is the note we drafted about the MacBook exploit confusion.

Please confirm that you've received this and will post it without text changes on your blog and front and center on SecureWorks' news & events page tonight. The placement of this post should be as prominent as the initial announcement of the exploit demo at Black Hat.

You are welcome to call me on my cell at 415-###-#### if you need to discuss any further.

Thanks,
Lynn


For the Record: MacBook is not inherently vulnerable to Black Hat-demonstrated exploit
By David Maynor

I want to clarify something about the wifi device driver exploit we demonstrated at Black Hat in Las Vegas a couple weeks ago.

Confusion has mounted as to whether the exploit I demoed at Black Hat and for Brian Krebs of the Washington Post is reliant the use of a third party driver. In short, the answer is yes. The MacBook is not inherently vulnerable to the attack, and I never said that it was.

Part of the confusion lies in the fact that we have not specifically named the third-party device driver; this is because we know that the vendor is working on a patch and we don't want to release the name of the chipset until the fix is in place.

I hope this clears up some of the confusion. Stay tuned for a live demo of this exploit live at Toorcon.


Note that I've masked out parts of the e-mail addresses and parts of Lynn Fox's cell phone number for privacy issues, but I can assure you it was the right phone number. I actually called the number to confirm that it was real, and Lynn Fox was quite upset and demanded to know where I got the number. I declined to answer since the e-mail at the time was given to me by David Maynor off the record. I asked Fox about the scandal, and she told me that her cell phone was breaking up and that she'd call me back. Within a minute, I had David Maynor instant-messaging me that Lynn Fox was on the phone with him in a rage. I told him I didn't disclose anything to Fox, and Maynor simply directed Fox to SecureWorks PR.

When I finally got Fox back on the phone, I asked her some questions about how MacWorld and the unofficial Apple blog got the information on the so-called confession. I got all my questions answered, but I can't disclose what she said since Fox refused to speak on the record. But the bottom line is that Lynn Fox played Jim Dalrymple, David Chartier, and the rest of the Mac press/blogosphere like a violin, though it was clear they were all willing participants. When I pointed out the flaws in their stories, Chartier and Dalrymple simply ignored me and stuck to their guns and Chartier erased all of my comments on his weblog.

So what was the end result of all this? Apple continued to claim that there were no vulnerabilities in Mac OS X, but came a month later and patched its wireless drivers (presumably for vulnerabilities that didn't actually exist). Apple patched these "nonexistent vulnerabilities" but then refused to give any credit to David Maynor and Jon Ellch. Since Apple was going to take research, not give proper attribution, and smear security researchers, the security research community responded to Apple's behavior with the MoAB (Month of Apple Bugs) and released a flood of zero-day exploits without giving Apple any notification. The result was that Apple was forced to patch 62 vulnerabilities in just the first three months of 2007, including last week's megapatch of 45 vulnerabilities.

Apple is a mega corporation that nearly smashed the reputation of two individuals with bogus claims of fraud. It didn't matter that they weren't the ones pulling the trigger because they were pulling all the strings. David Chartier should be ashamed of himself and his blog. Jim Dalrymple of Macworld and his colleagues who jumped on the bandwagon should be ashamed of their reporting. Frank Hayes was the only one of Dalrymple's colleagues who had the decency and honor to apologize. Most of all, shame on Apple.

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