Jul 28, 2011

Media’s internet cluelessness is unacceptable and they will die

The NBN was not hacked. The NBN couldn't possibly have been hacked.

Stilgherrian — Technology writer and broadcaster


Technology writer and broadcaster

As the news spread yesterday morning that the National Broadband Network had been hacked -- allegedly -- everybody who actually knows something about data networks and information security was mashing their face into their cornflakes. Repeatedly. The NBN was not hacked. The NBN couldn't possibly have been hacked. It was obvious. A few minutes cross-checking by someone with a even half a clue, or asking with such a person, would have confirmed that. Or, you know, checking with the alleged victim, Platform Networks. It has a phone. So why, as my colleague Bernard Keane pointed out yesterday, was the ABC still running with an "NBN attack" headline at lunchtime? Why was the PM story that evening, in which I was a participant, still calling Platform "a company linked to the National Broadband Network"? What was ANC News Radio still calling Platform "an NBN contractor" at 8pm? Even this morning the ABC can't let go of the NBN connection, or so I'm reliably told. I don't mean to single out the ABC. I just can't bear looking at any more of these daft stories. Jesus wept. Platform Networks is a "white box" internet service provider (ISP). Like a regular retail ISP, it uses a wholesale provider for the "last mile" connection to homes and businesses. The difference is that Platform provides infrastructure and services to virtual service providers (VSPs). The VSP's customers think their ISP is Jim and Sharon's Internet, but under the hood it's all Platform's gear. Platform has signed with NBN Co to use its fibre, yes, but it's not up and running yet. Even if it was, calling a hack of Platform a hack of the NBN is like calling a hack of iiNet or Internode or any of the hundreds of smaller ISPs a hack of Telstra because they use Telstra copper for their ADSL services. I daresay the excuse that'll be offered is that all this technical stuff is really, really hard. Bollocks. That excuse doesn't cut it any more. The internet has been a part of our lives for a decade and a half. A journalist doesn't know the difference between wholesale and retail ISPs? That's like not knowing major roads are constructed by state governments and local streets by local councils. Like not knowing the difference between a bookmaker and the TAB. Or, thank you Huffington Post, between AFL and rugby. The NBN is -- stop me if you've heard this before -- the biggest infrastructure project in Australia's history. Senator Stephen Conroy likes to tell us that the structural separation of Telstra is the biggest economic reform since the GST. Certainly it's a multibillion-dollar issue at the core of the project's politics. If you don't understand the difference between wholesale and retail ISPs, you don't understand one of the core issues about the entire NBN project. FFS, what have you been doing for the past three years? Don't journalists update their knowledge? Maybe they should. Like doctors and accountants and engineers. They're professionals, right? But no. Apparently when it comes to anything vaguely technical it's just fine for mainstream journalists to be ignorant. "When almost the entire body of AU media gets my specialty this wrong, I doubt their capacity to get other specialties right," tweeted ISP network engineer Mark Newton. "Why should I trust what they write about medicine? Law? Agriculture? Politics? Economics? Lost dogs?" he  asked. Quite. It's why the age of the non-specialist journalist may well be over. And because journalists are ignorant, politicians get to spout all sorts of blather unchallenged. "The awful part is Abbott ran with it," Patrick Gray, producer of the Risky Business podcast on information security, told Crikey. "It's a great line, designed to be critical, catchy and scary, but it's complete bullshit. It would be funny if people weren't actually going to believe him." Gray says some  journalists at the Australian Federal Police media conference yesterday seemed to ignore what police were saying and were intent on extracting a sound bite that supported their "NBN a security risk" narrative. Does that frustrate the police? Detective Superintendent Brad Marden, who ran the media conference, thinks not. "I'm quite happy with the line of questioning to be perfectly honest," Marden told Gray in an interview for his next episode. "It's their role to actually try and find out what is happening. As it turns out in this case it wasn't an angle for them there." There's a good reason for the feds to be happy. "The AFP will be dining out on this for years," a former law enforcement chap told me yesterday. "They caught the first hacker of the NBN." Yeah whatever.

Free Trial

You've hit members-only content.

Sign up for a FREE 21-day trial to keep reading and get the best of Crikey straight to your inbox

By starting a free trial, you agree to accept Crikey’s terms and conditions


Leave a comment

16 thoughts on “Media’s internet cluelessness is unacceptable and they will die

  1. klewso

    Who was spreading the crap about “the NBN” being hacked – the same media lumpenproletariat with an “Labor NBN axe” to grind?
    As for the ABC, “outsourcing” their news agenda, to “private enterprise” ………?

    But it was lucky, apparently some “Joe Public” rang in to let the “relevant authorities” know this had happened, from where “the chase” was taken up?
    Still if “journo’s” concentrate on the “hacked NBN” bit, they aren’t looking at how this all started?

  2. Gavin Moodie

    The frustrating thing about Radio National PM’s program was that it interviewed someone (Stilgherrian?) who pointed out clearly why the NBN hadn’t been hacked and then afterwards ran an interview with someone claiming the opposite in an obviously flawed statement.

    Is this ABC’s idea of balance, running idiotic comments to balance reasonable ones?

  3. paddy

    In all the BS that was flying around yesterday about the “NBN” being hacked, I was trying (and failing) to find out what exactly the “unemployed, truckdriving superhacker” had done.
    There was some suggestion that he was “allegedly” responsible for the major destruction wreaked on the web hosting company Distribute IT. But you’d be hard put to find it on any local site.
    The UK site “The Register” seemed to have the best summary. Here.

  4. Mr Pajama Pudding

    Many journalists in the MSM seem to be poorly informed philistines who have very little knowledge of scientific or technological issues. Their main skills lies in stirring pots. Their collective fear of the NBN is palpable, particularly those who fear for their jobs in a post-NBN world where most media will be delivered via the internet. And the MSM is easily infected by memes, particularly memes based on hoaxes, spin and disguised marketing. Any opportunity to spread FUD about the NBN is embraced enthusiastically without impartial evaluation or even rudimentary attempts to be properly informed and understand the actual issues.

    This is also reflected within the wider community. Even now, most people have no idea what ADSL actually means. If you mention the word Asynchronous, eyes glaze over immediately.

  5. Linda Hearder

    Wasn’t it only a few days ago Julia said “Don’t write crap – it can’t be that hard.” Obviously that didn’t sink in…

  6. Holden Back

    Assymetrical, Mr Pajama Pudding.

  7. Meski

    Abbott ran with it, good. Anything he can do to look more stupid and ill-informed is all to the good.

  8. michael r james

    [“When almost the entire body of AU media gets my specialty this wrong, I doubt their capacity to get other specialties right,” tweeted ISP network engineer Mark Newton. “Why should I trust what they write about medicine? Law? Agriculture? Politics? Economics? Lost dogs?” he asked.]

    Indeed, you can’t. “Lost dogs”, well I am not happy with the treatment of the Hendra virus dog thing.

    I have often griped that part of this problem is that most in the media are from a liberal-arts background and so what can you expect. But there is also increasingly agenda setting by media, kind of normalized by 5 decades of Murdoch. How can we expect Queenslanders to be any wiser when they only have The Australian and The CM and then find the main headline stories get repeated almost verbatim by the ABC News?

    It is truly awful that the ABC has deteriorated to such an extent. Their investigative programs are still good but most people only take in the news, AM and 7.30, and too often they just get it wrong. An obsession with presenting “both” sides even if there it doesn’t exist. Even ex-Crikey Jonathan Green has IMO wrecked The Drum because there is way too much not just low-quality but dead-misleading stuff, in a vastly inappropriate attempt for “balance”–a strategy pretty much equivalent to the Intelligent Designers argument that their quackery should get equal time alongside teaching of evolution. It has been the opposite of contributing to the public’s understanding of these complex issues.

  9. Simon

    Kind of reminds me of the episode of The IT Crowd when Roy and Moss convince Jen that a black box with a flashing red light on top is the internet and if the light goes out the Internet will be destroyed. She presents this to a room of shareholders who are similarly taken in while Roy and Moss look on astonished that everyone is so naive… same thing here. another WTF moment from the media. well done.

  10. Gumby Roffo

    I’d reckon that 99% of the readers here would feel for you Stilgherrian having spent a large chunk of your time attempting to educating folks with the podcasts and articles. Only to find that this is the collective wisdom of some of those followers in Media positions, or perhaps they just wanted the edge to the story right or wrong. This should make media watch a breeze this week.

Share this article with a friend

Just fill out the fields below and we'll send your friend a link to this article along with a message from you.

Your details

Your friend's details