Wiretapping the Secret Service can be easy and fun | Bryan Seely | TEDxKirkland

By | November 19, 2019

Translator: Araminta Dutta
Reviewer: Queenie Lee Last year, a hacker recorded over 40 calls to the Secret Service
and the FBI in one day, without anyone finding out. I think most people in here would agree
that that was a bad idea. People on Twitter
and the news talked about it, and some people even accused him
of being a fraud of a government agent. Some people called him a moron. My friends call me Bryan. (Laughter) The point is not
that sensational headline, albeit it is kind of sensational. It’s why I did what I did
and for why I’m here. Wiretapping the Secret Service
can be easy and fun. If you haven’t figured out
that that is satire, then we need to have
a whole other discussion. This was the front-page
article on Valleywag. It made it to KOMO
and a variety of different places. The reason all of this came up was because of this. What you see on the right is a common map search
for a local business – an auto-glass repair category. On the left – same search,
same city in Orange County – auto-glass repair. There are fake businesses
in these listings, and they look just like the real ones. There isn’t a person in this room who’d probably be able
to make an educated guess as to which one is which. On the left, there are six fake businesses
in the Google listings, and on Whitepages, anyone care …? Ten out of ten – they’re all fake. They’re all controlled by one person. This one person found a way to manipulate
the variety of local business systems, like Yelp, and Angie’s List, and Bing,
and especially Google Maps, which is the target. They have the most traffic,
they generate the most business – if you’re on Google, you’re set. So what happens? They bumped off
the original ten placeholders, and they no longer get the phone calls
they rightly deserve. This is a scam. This has been going on
since directories even started. Before the internet, there were
actually people in Yellow Pages doing the same thing
with alphabetical listings. They would all name their businesses
“AAA,” “AA,” “AAAA,” to get at the front of the category. People have always found
a way to game the system. Problem is now,
no one knows it’s happening, and it’s happening in every city,
in every country, every category that services
businesses and consumers, and there are over 50 major categories
that this is just epidemically bad. Another problem that’s actually
come to light recently is – What you might be familiar with
in a typical Google search is at the top, there’s a Google AdWords. These are the advertising results
that people in businesses have paid for. And what you see here,
and it’s a little blurry, my apologies, it says, “$15 locksmith service.
24 hours a day, 20 minute response time.” I don’t know a single locksmith in this country that will drive to you
and service you for $15 for any type of – They wouldn’t even give you
a handshake for $15. It’s not worth the gas,
it’s not worth the labor. This is bait and switch. It’s a very common thing
in fraud textbooks. It’s a price they have
absolutely no intention of fulfilling, and they will charge you through the nose
because you can’t afford not to pay them, or they’ve already done the service,
and then they use intimidation. You’re locked out of your car. It’s 11 o’clock at night. You’re in a bad neighborhood. They show up because you clicked
on an ad that said “$15 service,” and now it’s 350, and they make you go to the ATM
and pull money out. What if it’s your grandmother? Your wife? Your sister? This happens and it’s been in the media, but no one picks it up because this problem is so complex,
and big, and multijurisdictional, the FBI and the Secret Service
don’t want to touch it, the attorneys general; there are so many different pieces, and we have to start
at the original root of the problem. This man ran a business
called the Serbian Crown; this is in Wired magazine. Hackers who didn’t like him turned his business hours
for the weekend to nothing. They just deleted
his availability on the weekends, and it single-handedly killed his business
in less than a month. He had to shut his doors. He was open for two decades or more –
I think even longer. So I approached Google. I told them all of the different methods
that these guys are using – the exploits, the ways
that they beat the ranking systems – and I was pleasantly surprised
by them doing absolutely nothing. So I started creating some funny listings
to maybe get some social following, and this one was my personal favorite: the Snowden Super Secret Hiding Place
on the White House lawn. (Laughter) You can see why they chose that
for the main website image. So I walked into
the Secret Service office after recording phone calls. I didn’t have a lawyer with me. I had no idea what was going to happen
other than I kind of needed to be there because if I got caught, I think it arguably would have been
a first-class vacation to Guantanamo Bay, and although I was in the Marines, I don’t want to be reunited
with them there. (Laughter) And orange isn’t exactly my color. (Laughter) What I did was very simple. I created a very identical
Secret Service listing with a different phone number, and as you can see, this one at the top
has three reviews, 202 area code, this one has a 425 area code, same address, more pictures. I deleted their reviews
in less than five minutes, and I added reviews of my own
that were fake. Took less than 20 minutes,
beginning to end. The positions switched because mine suddenly
had more “hidden points,” which then meant anybody
who looked for the Secret Service, anywhere in the country
for this specific one, got mine, and that phone number forwarded to them, and I could record both sides
of the conversation without ever touching their systems. It’s not even technically hacking. It’s just stupid, really. (Laughter) You seem to think it’s a bad idea. Where were you? This was me waiting. (Laughter) Might never use a phone again,
so might as well take a selfie. (Laughter) While I was sitting
in the Secret Service office, waiting for the guys to show up, they walked out,
they all rolled their eyes. They all thought I was crazy because I’d just literally
called them and said, “Hi, I might have just recorded
a bunch of calls to you guys trying to prove something. Can I come in and show you?” “Oh yeah. Yeah, sure. Yeah, come on in.” It sounded crazy. So I’m standing there with the agents
in the Secret Service office right after I took those initial photos, and the agent goes, “Look, I don’t believe you. This isn’t really happening.” I said, “Okay. Do me a favor,
and I’ll prove this right now. Call the Secret Service office
in Washington, D.C., and I’ll prove it.” Pulls his phone out, says his name – He knew the guy on the other end. Maybe they were roommates at the academy,
if they even go to an academy. I don’t really know. (Laughter) Who does know, I mean, really? (Laughter) They hang up after about five minutes,
and I open my laptop. I push play, and it played back
the conversation I’d just heard, because he was standing next to me, and the full audio
of the guy we didn’t hear. And their eyes suddenly stopped rolling. And it got very quiet. And they handed me a statement saying,
“These are your Miranda rights. You are not under arrest
but we need to search you, and we would like you to accompany us
to the guest suite – (Laughter) this luxurious, closet-sized suite
with no windows, in which you’ll be staying
an undetermined amount of time. You’re not under arrest,
but we really don’t want you to leave.” (Laughter) Obviously, I was there of my own accord. Obviously, I was there
because this was the right thing to do, because there was
something bigger at stake, because there are people being affected, and so I took a risk. I took a risk of never
seeing my kids again. I took a risk of a misunderstanding. There have been people jailed
for far less, who are completely innocent. I didn’t have any criminal intent. I walked in immediately and went like,
“Ha ha ha, I’m sorry. I’m an idiot. And here you go. This is a problem, fix it.” They couldn’t ever
bring a case against me saying, “He was going to sell this.” The first people I called was them! While in the room,
they called Google and said, “Okay, he’s been telling you,” and they go, “Oh,
but we didn’t believe him,” and then … I don’t know whatever they were saying,
I wasn’t monitoring that call. (Laughter) What ended up happening was they said, “Delete the listings.
He needs to delete the listings,” and then the Secret Service said, “Google, shut it off
until you guys fix the problem,” and they said, “Okay, got it.” So they hung up,
and he walks in and goes, “You’re a hero for bringing
this to our attention not knowing what the results
would be against you. This is a national security problem. There were phone calls that had sensitive or potentially investigation-compromising
information on them.” I stopped listening –
I didn’t want to hear anymore. I didn’t want to be like, “Oh man,
like, President Nixon,” and, “He totally did something stupid.” (Laughter) “I’m going to end up in a bag in a river!
Why did I do this?” (Laughter) So they said fix it. Six weeks, Google shut off
phone verifications for new businesses. They shut off a lot of the little methods that I required to be able
to do this kind of thing. I thought it was fixed. Six weeks later, they turned it back on
with not a single change made. They had just paused. The news had died down. The Secret Service
had closed the investigation because when the Secret Service
tells you to do something, I think they’re pretty
used to people doing it. I mean, it’s not like, “Please put your hands up,
if you don’t mind,” and, “Would you mind not shooting
at the president, today?” Like, they don’t make requests,
they make demands because it’s a very clear,
black-and-white thing for them. The reason I know it’s still broken is because I built this
with no one’s permission on Northwest University’s
campus last week. The cell phone for that number – it’s in my dressing room. Postcard verification is required
to establish new business addresses. I obviously don’t get mail
at the university. I didn’t go. This was built yesterday. It’s a snowboarding shop
in the Oval Office called Edwards Snow Den. (Laughter) (Laughter) (Applause) Yeah, they didn’t fix the thing. Google lied to the Secret Service. They said they would fix it,
then turn it back on. They just waited
for the media to die down. What we can do now. I’m the authority on this subject. The largest tech publisher in the country let me write a book
that’s coming out in August. That book is designed
to raise awareness for all of the businesses
and all of the consumers – all of the victims of this horrible scam that people don’t even know is happening. All you know is your American dream
of owning your own home is slowly being taken from you, but you don’t even see the guy
who’s taking your money. You just got less calls last month. You can’t pay for your kid’s braces. Suddenly, you can’t make your mortgage. I’ve talked to well over
20 different people whose families all live
with their in-laws. They lost their business;
they lost their bond; they lost their insurance;
they lost their work truck. Whether it’s a locksmith
or a carpet cleaner, these are hardworking Americans. These are small business owners. They’re complaining to Google,
and Google’s going, “Nah, it’s not us.” They don’t have a chat support line. Their forums are just empty of admins. There’s nothing really going on
on Google’s end, and the worst thing is – Remember those advertisements
I was showing you? The scammers pay Google
for those ads by a click – every time they click. So when you click for that $15 service,
the scammer pays Google 25 bucks. Doesn’t make sense. If they were originally
going to charge 15, how can they spend more on the ad
than what they were going to bring in? Because they were never intending on that. Google knows they’re doing this because they just fought a lawsuit and got it dismissed under a law
that’s not designed for doing this. They’re hiding behind
their army of lawyers and their motto of “Don’t be evil,” and they’re cashing the check of the guys who are robbing
from the consumers and their clients. I don’t know a clearer way to say it. They’re happy to cash the check. They don’t want to fix the problem
because they’re making a lot of money. There are hundreds of thousands of these
fake businesses across the country. For example, you can fit, in one category, three to five auto-glass shops
in a city of 100,000 people or more. There are over 299 cities of over 100,000
population in the United States as of the 2013 census. How I know that is because I used to be working
with these kinds of scammers. I have detailed files from all of the different things
that they’ve done. They pay for bulk reviews written by professional
authors and writers – 20,000 bought at a time. They are so good at gaming the system that you are so ill-equipped
to even notice because you’re in a hurry. You’re not looking for a plumber because you might have
something wrong next week. Your basement’s full of water
and everyone’s going to drown. Call the plumber now; you don’t need to price check,
and they’re counting on it. Stop using Google for this product. Now, don’t get me wrong;
I love Google. I use their Gmail service, I love the way they invest –
clean energy, SpaceX, self-driving cars – they are a great company. This one piece is a cancer. It’s a blight, it’s a shame, and the way this stops is them going,
“Okay, we’re going to fix it. Let’s see what we can do
and make this right. Somebody’s making money
and somebody’s covering something up.” And until that day comes to light, I’m pretty good at being loud,
and I’m pretty good at being obnoxious, and I’m pretty good at getting away
with some really, really obnoxious stuff. If you want to go
and look those businesses up, they’re live on Google Maps, prominently displayed
for the whole world to see. So if you’re in the Oval Office
and you need a snowboarding shop, I might know a guy. (Laughter) Thank you. (Applause)

100 thoughts on “Wiretapping the Secret Service can be easy and fun | Bryan Seely | TEDxKirkland

  1. Paul Motter Post author

    Okay – I understand the Google problem, it is easy to game their system based on fake reviews, etc. And I agree they also love the money. Here is another trick they do – they have a personality snapshot of what kind of political information you like (say Climate Change) and if you google search it all the articles you WANT to read will be ads, all the rest will be the ones that do not support your position. Yelp does that same thing by the way – and in many cases the "companies" you call are not even companies at all – they are just middlemen who sell the leads.

    But, I still don't understand how he was able to listen in on the Secret Service calls by placing an ad in Google – what did I miss?

  2. djturnz Post author

    Good video, but I think there's a hole in his story. He said he basically set up a listing for a spoofed secret service office, but listed his phone number, that forwards to the real number. That's how he recorded the calls. Why would the agent that called DC be calling the spoofed number?

  3. Dee B Post author

    The secret service should hire you. Is it me or is the audience a bit deaf.

  4. dbyrne91 Post author

    Google have become out of anyone’s control. Strange he went to also praise them? So why does he need to sell a book to fix the problem? I found his pitch for the book to be sus af

  5. diann h Post author

    This guy deserves an award. You know that scene in lord of war when cage comes out and tells Mick at the end how he did good but no one can stop him(basically). Same concept. This guys amazing

  6. DrummerJacob Post author

    How did the news and Twitter talk about something that he claims no one knew about? The first thing he said was that no one knew about it.

    Not good to contradict your entire speech in the first 30 seconds.

  7. jm8080 Post author

    So this scammers have to pay Google $25 for every click on their ads? I don't have to use the scammer's service in order for them to pay google 25 bucks? If yes then this is easy, just click and click their ads until they're bankrupt.

  8. Matthew McGoo Post author

    Teleprompter reads " audience laughter ", except there was no laughter.
    Probably because dudes jokes were punctuated poorly and his timing was horribly off.

  9. tommy karrick Post author

    This is still my favorite TED talk, I wonder if this has ever been fixed but I’m inclined to assume that no it hasn’t
    Also, for everyone saying “tough crowd” it’s cause they didn’t mic the crowd, Tom Scott talked about it once. The crowd was fine in person you just can’t hear it

  10. AlvenGamers Post author

    ”The scammers, pay google”
    google home randomly starts listening

  11. Fiona Cahill Post author

    I'm surprised the Secret Service didn't offer him a job…has Google hired him yet? 😁

  12. Glenn Bigelow Post author

    Can't put my finger on it but something about this seems so so off….

  13. armor power Post author

    I couldn't laugh at this not because of it wasn't funny but because the fact Google did nothing just out weighing it

  14. Iam Observer Post author

    So your bragging about helping the shadow government.. yay!

  15. lauren noyb Post author

    He remained me of an older cleaned up Jesse pinkman.

  16. RL FQ Post author

    Orange isn't exactly my color…. Crickets… Come on it wasn't that bad of a joke! 6:30

  17. Jakub Doložílek Post author

    Him: My friends call me bryan
    Subtitles: (laughter)

  18. Mateo Woyna Post author

    Did he call Google SpaceX and Tesla the same company even though Google isn't even a company?

  19. Charles Ringling Post author

    I search by keyword and distance on everything.

  20. Robert Damron Post author

    So I just wasted 18minutes of my life ill never get back thanks bud

  21. SideOrderOfFries Post author

    This whole video feels like I’m watching a Disney channel TV show before the laugh track is added.

  22. TheBeerDolt Post author

    Hmmm… go look up "US Secret Service Washington DC". I'm not sure I would call one of those entries on the map.

  23. The End Post author

    TMW YouTube auto play puts you onto a government watchlist

  24. ROB HAKEEM Post author

    I won’t stop recommending John for his great work, I noticed my husband is getting too much closer with my friend Charlotte , my husband chats now in private, her calls are in secret and she changed her phone password, I was wondering what going on until I came across a post on here about INTELLECTUAL CYBER SERVICES who helped a man hack into his wife phone remotely to access everything so I decided to contact him and he never disappointed me, he helped me hack into my husband phone, I don't need to touch his phone, in less than 24hours after his phone was finally hacked, his messages coming into my phone instantly. Now I can monitor her phone remotely to access her Facebook, WhatsApp, Text messages, Call Logs, GPS Location and more, you can contact him on his email if you are interested in any hacking related issues..

  25. coprice94 Post author

    why isn't google getting in trouble for this smh if this was me I be in jail

  26. crazfulla Post author

    Google owns youtube, yet this video eremains? Shows how attentive they are also lol

  27. DEUS EST MORTUUS Post author

    The mic he was wearing didn't pick up the audience, everyone calm down.

  28. Yo Dad Post author

    If anyone knows how to hack into this type of stuff and make some mula I’ll pay good money to learn or become a partner..

  29. sweety black Post author

    google is CRIMINAL and needs to be constantly monitored by the government or broken up for anti trust violations

  30. SOUR S4G Post author

    I owned a locksmith company in Minneapolis MN and he couldn’t be more correct. I had to close my doors because of scammers.

  31. Auston Post author

    Very informative and interesting ted talk. Never knew Google screwed us that much. I agreed with him up until he said Google is a good company at the end.

  32. Ether Secure Post author

    Wellllll, to be fair, you did all this in one of the nicest places on Earth by the sounds of it. Regardless, a first-world country. Try becoming a youth criminal in sub-Saharan Africa, Latin-America, or some Balkan State; the outcome would likely have been different. To make matters worse, in less developed nations, sometimes there's no choice but to break the law to survive, not just doing it for fun.

  33. J. Post author

    The culprits are people destroying lives or having fun? Is this part of "it takes a village"?

  34. Kevin Poole Post author

    Epidemic of Electronic Eavesdropping incredible the ping leads no privacy youd phone can be hacked in. The Restaurant or just passing by

  35. Jamie Walker Post author

    Whislt the video is funny/entertaining I can't condone this. These people risk their lives every day to keep us safe. I have nothing but respect and love for them. Even if some seem horrible. They could be the reason YOU reading this aren't already injured or worse…

  36. ORTHEAUX Post author

    why is this the first time i’m hearing about this? seems like something that should be household news so that we’re aware of avoiding certain ads and services and sticking to the ones we know directly?

  37. Walrus BFV Post author

    “There probably isn’t a single person in this room who can make an educated guess of which one is which.”
    My FBI agent watching with me:

  38. Dale Gee Post author

    The biggest risk he took was public speaking. Possibly one of the worst TED talks.

  39. Howard Fortyfive Post author


  40. Brett Cullen Post author

    I have to assume they didn't mic the audience properly – an audience can be THIS unresponsive in the face of these finely crafted jokes!

  41. Lilac Lizard Post author

    Here's some hack advice for this guy, when ted gives you a mat to let you know where the spotlight is set up to light you & cameras set up to capture you, it's a really good idea to stand on said mat! Not a good idea to leave a brightly lit red mat in the middle of the stage while you stand in the dark lol

  42. Ben Post author

    this all goes back to the root of most problems… capitalism

  43. Ignacio Cabero Post author

    His jokes were actually pretty fun. The "easy and fun" part was funny and the fact that he had to point out he was joking meant the audience was reaally not into it for some reason. Maybe it was really early or really late

  44. BLACK DOG . Post author

    So where are we now at the hands of man men …!, the end!, ?

  45. Ron Freaking Swanson Post author

    Everyone who clicked on this video just got put on a watch list, welcome to the club my friends.

  46. Don France Post author

    Thank you for your service and lighting up some dark net issues.

  47. David Hedges Post author

    For Google read every system in a capitalist society … Google is not the issue … these scams happened before google, before the internet….

  48. Andrew Land Post author

    Someone made the shop building at my homeschool into "the juul room" on Google maps.

  49. The Radioactive Player Post author

    love how everybody's focusing on the audience, and not the fact that this is the single largest security risk of (perhaps) all time

  50. Niniju Post author

    He said that if you click on an ad for the $15 service that they pay Google $25 just for the click. What if you spam clicked that specific ad?

  51. Cassidy Crawford Post author

    I feel like I saw one of this mans pranks. It was the social security office, and they said they weren't open the exact opposite times they really were and that they were only open Saturdays for a llama petting zoo.

  52. Matthew Lawton Post author

    "Google's a pretty good company"

    No they're not. They're the biggest oligarchic threat to individual liberty outside of the oil industry.

  53. Netherworld Artifacts Post author

    So it's not crazy to think google maps changes the route to pass business that pay them more?

  54. Rizqy Alamsyah Wardhana Post author

    is this issue being handled yet?

    sorry bad English

  55. Summer Post author

    There used to be a cafe on my high school’s batting mound and a bar and grill on the 50 yard line

  56. Chris Iman Post author

    I always hoped someone in the Anonymous Collective would have done this as well and left a huge mark!!

  57. peter littlehorse Post author

    Bad title for the video. I'd have watched this years ago if I had known what it was really about.

  58. PowerOfThePick Post author

    He had jokes and nobody even gave a fake laugh, tough crowd

  59. Joshua Latham Post author

    When I was a teenager, I added my house to google maps. It was super easy, and I'm not surprised people started using that maliciously.


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