When Hollywood’s elite stroll the red carpet at the 92nd Academy Awards on February 9, they’ll need to watch out for flashing cameras, Ryan Seacrest, and… hackers?

It’s happened before.

In 2005, three enterprising University of Southern California students — John Hering, James Burgess, and Kevin Mahaffey — were in the crowd outside the Kodak Theatre. Hering wore a backpack containing the “Blue Sniper,” a powerful antenna capable of scanning and reading Bluetooth-connected phones within a mile radius. They discovered at least 100 phones vulnerable to their hack.

Exposing the Bluetooth vulnerability

Luckily for the world’s actors and actresses, the trio wasn’t interested in actually tapping into their personal data — just proving it could be done when leading cell phone manufacturers insisted it couldn’t. Actually accessing the data would have been illegal.

A year earlier, they had privately disclosed a security vulnerability in the Nokia 6310i directly to Nokia, following the established protocol for security researchers. Nokia had declined to fix it, however, believing Bluetooth only had a range of 100 meters.

The 2005 Oscars stunt paid off for the USC students. You might recognize it as the backstory of the mobile security app Lookout and successful entrepreneur John Hering. Piggybacking on the Academy Awards experiment/publicity stunt, Hering raised $75 million for his start-up, which continues to expose vulnerabilities in the Internet of Things, including the Tesla Model S.

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Photo: gualtiero boffi / Shutterstock

Kate Johanns

Posted by Kate Johanns

Kate Johanns is a communications professional and freelance writer with more than 13 years of experience in publishing and marketing.

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