Mythbusters Gagged

January 15, 2009

As a huge fan of the show Mythbusters on the Discovery Channel, I do not know how I didn’t run across this earlier. It is quite an interesting story that we will perhaps never know the details of.

Apparently, the Mythbusters team set out to test the Myths related to potential security flaws in the new RFID-enabled credit cards, also referred to as “magic wand credit cards.” Some argue that it is possible to hack the card and take money from someone’s bank account from as far a 70 feet away.

Below is a quote from one of the shows host, Adam Savage on the subject:

“Texas Instruments comes on along with chief legal counsel for American Express,
Visa, Discover, and everybody else… They were way, way outgunned and they
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 it.”

A short time later, Savage retracted these comments, releasing a new statement:

“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…the decision not to continue on with the RFID story was made by our production company, Beyond Productions, and had nothing to do with Discovery, or their ad sales department.”

I think the second statement was one that was “required” by legal counsel on the side of Mythbusters. The real question is what would be the purpose of squashing the story?

Are these new RFID cards really so easily hacked? If so, why would the credit card companies issue them. Surely, they tested them before the started sending them out in to the market.

After all, who is on the hook for the fraud? The consumer is limited to $50 and the rest is the merchants responsibility. This of course, assumes that they do a charge back to the merchant. I could not imagine that they would want to put out a product that would subject their merchants or themselves to this risk.

Upon farther investigation, it was not very hard to find some places on the web that would teach you how to hack these cards. I found one that showed you how to do it for $8. I don’t know if their methods worked, since I am not exactly into hacking other peoples credit card accounts, but it makes you wonder – Why did they kill the Mythbusters episode?

Below is video of Adam spilling the beans on the conference call: