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Bryan M. Wolfe
| April 19, 2012
Rush Limbaugh: My iPhone 4S Was Hacked
AppAdvice isn’t a place where politics are normally discussed, nor do we as an organization have an opinion (one way or another) about conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh. However, this one is interesting. Here is what Limbaugh told his audience earlier this week about his iPhone 4S and Siri, Apple’s voice recognition software. Tell us what you think at the end:
Now, if there is anybody in this audience listening that writes for an Apple or high-tech blog — or if there is anybody listening to this program that works for or at Apple, Incorporated — you have to hear what happened to me this morning. Sadly, I can’t prove it. (interruption) Well, you’ll hear why in a moment. I was so discombobulated by what happened that I didn’t save what showed up on my iPhone. Now, let me describe my setup for you. I have a car that has a Bluetooth mating system in it. So my iPhone is paired with the Bluetooth system, which means that I can use hands-free operation. Everybody does this, probably. No big deal there. I also drive around with a Verizon LTE hotspot because Verizon’s turned on LTE here which is 20 megabytes down. So I don’t use AT&T’s 4G, I don’t use cellular when I’m driving around. I use Wi-Fi. This hotspot from Verizon converts the LTE signal to Wi-Fi and that’s how I connect the iPhone. So my system is my phone paired with the car’s Bluetooth provided by the manufacturer, and it is also connected via Wi-Fi to a Verizon LTE hotspot. Now, the way Apple iPhone dictation works is you hit the microphone button on your keyboard, and that immediately establishes an online connection with Apple servers somewhere. The dictation does not occur, the translation does not occur in the phone. What you say is transmitted at whatever connection speed you’re using — 3G, 4G, or Wi-Fi — to Apple servers wherever they are. The speech is then transcribed to text by a company called Nuance, which makes Dragon Dictation, and that’s the voice-to-text aspect of Siri in the iPhone. So you say, “Testing one, two, three” and hit the microphone button. Apple’s servers then transcribe it and send it back to you, and it displays on your screen. This happens fast if you have a fast connection. That’s why I use the LTE hotspot. This happens within a second and a half. What I’ve said shows back up on my iPhone or iPad a second and a half after I say it. Now, the way my Bluetooth setup in the car works is — if I’m listening to the radio, for example — the moment I hit the microphone on the iPhone, the radio is muted, because a phone call is being made, essentially. The phone system via Bluetooth is used to send my voice transcription out to Apple and back. When it comes back and the connection is finished, then the audio from the radio resumes. Up until today, it worked flawlessly. The dictation, sometimes it’s a 100% accurate, sometimes 95%. It’s always close enough to just go ahead and hit the send button, except sometimes it doesn’t get proper names right. Today after the hotspot established its connection with the iPhone and I got Wi-Fi going and everything’s hunky-dory. I’m maybe a quarter of a mile from home on the way in to work, I attempt dictation, and nothing happens. I hit the microphone button and I get the three beeps and no connection. It’s not working. So I say, “Ah, damn it, the system’s down. Something’s wrong with the servers,” but I keep trying. The third attempt… I was trying to respond to some stuff Kathryn had sent me. She needed an answer on some stuff. So I said whatever it was my answer was the third time, and what came back to me? This is what you’re not gonna believe. What showed up on my iPhone was “Obama’s minions are taking over and there’s nothing you can do about it,” and I hadn’t said anything like that! The audio on the radio did not un-mute. The audio on the radio never came back. The whole system was discombobulated. So I switched from satellite to AM just to see if there was something wrong with the satellite signal, and AM came in fine. So I tried it again. I deleted that. I did not save that. I thought, “Man, something’s really not right.” So I responded to Kathryn again. I don’t even remember what it was saying. I was answering questions about some stuff we’ve got going on this weekend. I said it again, the same thing I’d said the first time. What came back to me the second time was totally unrelated to anything I had said. It was talking about wind power and Obama and, “You don’t have a chance.” I am not making this up. And I said to myself, “You know, somebody’s hacked Apple’s servers. I’m gonna get in there.” I said, “I can’t wait to get to work and fire up some of these Apple blogs because I’ll bet you this has been going on all morning and I’ll betcha it’s a big story that Apple’s servers have been hacked.” So I tried it again. The third thing which came back had nothing to do with politics. It had nothing to do with Obama, but it was not anything close to what I had said. Then I started doing, “Testing one, two, three,” and I would get back four sentences that did not have “testing” or “one, two, three” in them. So, as I say, I didn’t save any of these. I wasn’t thinking. I was so curious. I didn’t send them. It didn’t make any sense. If I would have sent these things to Kathryn, she would have thought I’m losing my mind even more than I already have. (interruption) Wait, I’m not through with the story! So I get here. This happens two more times. I get here, the first thing I do when I get into the studio on our network system is start dictating, and it’s flawless. It’s perfect. It was only in my car that this happened. It was only with my Verizon LTE hotspot and my Bluetooth. I got in here and I used our Wi-Fi network, and dictation worked perfectly. It’s been working perfectly all morning. It was only in the car. I got so busy, I didn’t have a chance to go back out to the car and try it again. I’ll try it later when I leave. So I sent this story. I typed this story I just told you and I sent it to a bunch of computer people. I said, “What could possibly explain this?” And the answers I got back ranged from, “You’ve been hacked,” to, “Somebody got into your car,” to, “Somebody’s tampered with the Bluetooth module.” It was, “Somebody’s done something. They’re sending you a message that they can do it,” or, “Your Bluetooth module is so totally defective that you need a new one,” or, “There’s something wrong with the LTE hotspot.” There was no answer that was satisfactory. This has never happened. But that first message that came back was: “Obama’s minions are taking over.” As I say, I can’t prove this, because I didn’t keep the transcriptions. I deleted them. I don’t even know if I actually deleted them. I just didn’t send them. (They are not on the phone. I went and looked.) So when I finish here this afternoon and am on the way out, I’m gonna try this again. I haven’t changed any circumstances. I’m not charging the hotspot. I’m not gonna switch out the Bluetooth unit. I’m not gonna change. What I might do turn is off the hotspot if it happens again or just use the AT&T 4G and see if it happens that way. But to understand this again: When you use dictation on your iPhone or iPad, the phone is not doing anything. What you get is transmitted to Apple’s servers and then there’s software on those servers made by Nuance, which does the voice translation to text. And that gets sent back to your phone, in whatever application you’re using: E-mail, message. Whatever has a keyboard, you can use dictation. So what do you think of that, Snerdley? Who could possibly explain this? Could it be that somebody at Apple can ID my phone, knows when I’m voice transcribing and can send something back? Could that possibly be? Who knows? I have no idea. I am not a power user. In the sense… I mean, I’m probably a consumer power user, but I’m not a power user in terms of people that can use a terminal, write code, and all that kind of stuff. I haven’t gotten into it that much. I don’t have any other theories, but I sent this off to two people who might, and none of them could believe it but they then started trying to explain it to me what various things could exist to explain this. But it was the first two that came back that specifically mentioned Obama. So there’s that. (interruption) The Martins didn’t hack anybody! Snerdley just asked me… That grandfather and grandmother couple, they were driving around in I think either Tampa or Jacksonville somewhere. And like everybody, they had a cell phone radio in their Cadillac. They were able to monitor cell phone calls. Like a police scanner, theirs monitored cell signals and frequencies, and they overheard Newt having a conversation with John Boehner back in the nineties. And this grand-couple, big Democrat activists, thought that they were in on history. And they recorded it, too! They had a recorder in their car along with the cell phone radio in their car, and they recorded it. And they sent it to the New York Times, who published it. But they didn’t hack anything. They just had a radio that was able to monitor those frequencies. Well, I know that was years ago. It was like 20 years ago when that happened, and they’ve upgraded. But the first thing I thought of was somebody hacked Apple’s servers. Because it’s impossible for dictate — for example, if you have Dragon dictate on your iPhone or your iPad, the hardware, software inside the phone is not doing the voice-to-text translation. That’s happening off-site via servers and comes back to your phone via the network. ID’d by phone number, e-mail address, with the iMessage program you can set up five different e-mail addresses that people can reach you on. But in this case it would be IP, because this is Wi-Fi. This could be a combination phone number and IP address. Who knows. As I say, I’m not that much of a power user to be able to explain that, but this didn’t happen yesterday when I parked the car in the garage. The only thing that happened to the car yesterday was it got washed, at home. Now, I was in the library most of the night working. Somebody coulda come in, got the car, drove it somewhere, I would never know. The garage is about a half mile from my library. Just kidding. But I didn’t check the security camera, so I don’t know if anything happened to the car. I don’t know if it left the garage and came back, I don’t know. I have no clue. And of course, if I start asking, I know the answer I’m going to get. No, no, didn’t touch it. But the most common suggestion I got from the people I sent it to was, “You’ve got a Bluetooth problem here. There’s something wrong with Bluetooth.” That may be, but for Obama and his minions to end up in a translated voice-to-text message when I didn’t say Obama, I didn’t say minions, I didn’t say anything about any of that, the dictation’s never been that far off. I don’t take super-secret phone calls. That’s the point. This wasn’t super-secret. It was just to Kathryn. It happens all the time. If it happens this afternoon I’m gonna keep whatever it throws back at me. I won’t be able to prove what I say, you know, that’s lost to the ether, but I will be able to show whatever it thinks I said in terms of the translation that comes back.Any ideas what caused Siri to do this? Was it a problem when switching from Wi-Fi to 3G? Was Siri listening to someone else and then responding to Limbaugh in error? Is Limbaugh just full of it? Anything like this ever happen to you? We thank MacNewsDaily for bringing this to our attention.