That’s how an iPhone saved my life

NBC’s new show American Odyssey really ticks all the boxes by taking PMCs, islamists, American heroes soldiers, the Occupy movement, big corporations, hackers, lawyers and the government, adding a healthy dose of conspiracy theorists and mashing it all up into a soup of prime time entertainment. Hell, why not? Not every show can be another Homeland, can it?

Fortunately for me, it’s also fun on another level as there are quite a few unfortunate screw ups in the first episode alone. Hell, it wouldn’t be an NBC show if it was flawless!

So the show is about Odelle Ballard, an American soldier on duty in northern Mali. She has just rid the world of yet another terrorist leader and is now resting with her team somewhere in the desert. While taking a dump, she pulls out her phone and watches a video her daughter made:

Image (c) NBC

Image (c) NBC

Wow, an actual iPhone 4 running iOS 7, showing the actual operating system instead of a mockup? I must be dreaming! Probably, as Ballard’s phone clearly indicates an available LTE connection in the middle of the fucking desert. That’s quite a feat considering at that time – March 13, 2015 – Mali doesn’t have any LTE coverage at all (according to this article posted on March 6th, 2015, “LTE […] would be a new service in the market” and will be “introduced later in the year”) and general cellphone coverage in the northern area, especially the desert, appears to be spotty at best.

Please also note the battery level (about 75% full) and the fact the email icon has no notification badge – no new mail! There’s also no provider identification displayed next to the connection quality indicator, which is odd, but I’m not entirely sure it has to be there. If you have to know, it’s 9:50 pm on March 13, 2015.

Suddenly, the entire squad is blown to smithereens, minus Odelle Ballard who’s pushed out of sight by the blast. She drops her iPhone and falls unconscious. When she wakes up again, some locals with guns are sifting through the remains of her fellow countrymen. She does what every normal person would do after waking up – she checks her mail. But first, she has to turn the iPhone on – not that I’ve got the first idea how she managed to turn it off before falling unconscious. Good for her, had the phone remained on, the battery would likely be dead thanks to the constant network scans without proper coverage.

Image (c) NBC

Image (c) NBC

It’s 10:01 am the next day, 12 hours after the attack, and she’s got no cellphone coverage at all, which also means no internet. Surprisingly, the mail app notification icon indicates she has 11,973 (!) new e-mails – pretty amazing considering she’s presumed dead.

Thanks to the sound her phone makes when receiving the 11,973 emails (still without any kind of internet coverage), the (presumed) islamists promptly discover her and smash her phone to pieces, but not before she manages to sneak out an e-mail that gets sent in the last second, typical iOS swoosh sound and all.

iPhones, I tell you – they make the impossible … possible. With out the magic of the iDevice, the show’s already shallow plot would fall flat on it’s face.

Image (c) NBC

Image (c) NBC

Oh. Now it all makes sense.

(The second episode’s credits omit that line, by the way, and sure enough, cellphones are suddenly either made by Samsung or can’t be identified.)

But we’re far from done here.

Remember when I mentioned hackers are part of the show as well? They sure are, and they manage to get access to Ms. Ballard’s private email account. Look, they (well, it’s really just one greasy guy in his mom’s basement apartment) use professional hacking tools!

Image (c) NBC

Image (c) NBC

Of course she has an iCloud account – I wonder if this was a good idea in terms of marketing in light of the recent iCloud hacks?

The password is really easy to brute-force, and the hacker has no problem accessing her mailbox:

Image (c) NBC

Image (c) NBC

The clever bastard is using a web mail proxy because why not. Pretty sure https://webmail/mail/login leads absolutely nowhere unless he has the proxy running on his local machine – in which case the proxy would be completely useless – but the URL format looks suspiciously similar to the one used by GMail. The input box also doesn’t mask the password for whatever reason. However, it’s “the web’s most reliable email client”, that’s something!

Here’s the inbox:

Image (c) NBC

Image (c) NBC

Looks pretty convincing, right? I must admit they really did a decent job on creating this mockup. However, they didn’t really think it through because this isn’t an iCloud mail account! Instead, it looks like they copied Gmail a bit too well, as evident from the URL schema


and the “FindBigMail” folder which indicates Ms. Ballard is employing the services of, a tool to manage large emails that’s exclusive to GMail accounts. To add insult to injury, the number of emails in the account is displayed as 9,591 – a lot less than the 11,973 displayed by the mail app on her iPhone. Also, all displayed mails are at least three days old, which means she didn’t get any new mails at all between a few days before the attack and now.


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