Zombie EAS Hack Attack Hits TV Stations

Hackers broke into the Emergency Alert Systems of KRTV Great Falls, Mont. (see video below); WBKP and WNMU Marquette, Mich., airing a warning that dead bodies were "attacking the living" and warned people not to "approach or apprehend these bodies as they are extremely dangerous." Local and state authorities and the FCC are investigating to determine how the hackers got access.
TVNewsCheck,

At least four TV stations across the country Monday were the victims of a hoax after a hacker broke into their Emergency Alert Systems.

KRTV Great Falls, Mon., initially made headlines Tuesday after a video of the alert, claiming “dead bodies were rising from their graves,” went viral on the Web. But the CBS affiliate wasn’t alone. WBKP and WNMU Marquette, Mich., also had the same alert played on their airwaves.

Story continues after the ad

The hack likely happened because station operators didn’t change the default password on their Common Alert Protocol Emergency Alert System, says Ed Czarnecki, senior director of strategy and regulatory affairs for Monroe Electronics, the main manufacturer of EAS systems across the country.

“Quite simply, someone made an unauthorized access to the stations’ firewall and somebody logged into the system using a default username and password,” says Czarnecki. “This is a simple matter of operational security best practices. You have to change your default password on any new device.”

Now local and state authorities and the FCC are investigating to determine how that unauthorized access was granted. Calls into the Michigan State Police and FCC weren’t immediately returned, although the FCC Tuesday evening ordered stations to take immediate action to secure their EAS systems.

A spokesperson for the Federal Emergency Management Agency acknowledged that there may have been "a breach of security" of the product used by some broadcasers.

Brand Connections

However, he added, "FEMA's integrated public alert and warning system was not breached or compromised and this had no impact on FEMA’s ability to activate the Emergency Alert System to notify the American public.FEMA will continue to support the FCC and other federal agencies looking into the matter."

After reviewing his station’s EAS security log Monday night, Kenn Baynard, WBKP operations manager in Marquette, said it was clear that someone made multiple attempts to break into the system. “They went in from the back door of this system and tried numerous passwords and have been doing so for days leading up to the hack,” Baynard says.

Before any real alert goes out, such as one from the National Weather Service, station executives are notified via email about it. That didn’t happen at the ABC affiliate on Monday afternoon, Baynard says. “It just went out by itself. There was no log about it, nothing. It just went out.”

Baynard is now blaming Monroe Electronics, claiming the software has a security flaw. “I spoke with an engineer in Montana using the same system, and it was hit the same exact way.”

Czarnecki stands by his argument, saying the company clearly states in its manual to change all default passwords, including the administrator password. He’s now telling all station operators to double-check their passwords and even choose a new password to avoid anything similar from happening.

“We’re not treating this lightly,” he says, adding the company is examining multiple options to fix any possible security flaws.

Ernest Sanchez, counsel for KENW Portales, N.M., said, in general, any business that has a responsibility to take reasonable action to protect against any kind of foreseeable cyber attack. “This should be a wakeup call to stations around the country to be very conscious about their EAS security,” he says.

As for who did the hacking is still being investigated.

Eric Smith, WNMU general manager, said Northern Michigan University’s forensics information technology staff traced the hack to an overseas IP address Tuesday morning.

“We have a good forensics IT staff that are very good at tracking where problems develop,” says Smith. “As protocol, we’ve turned the investigation over to the university’s public safety and police department.”

Karole White, president-CEO of the Michigan Broadcaster’s Association, said the group has been contacting other Michigan stations to ensure a similar attach has happened. She says this is the first time she’s ever heard of experienced this type of attack.

“Before a year or two ago, the EAS systems were hooked up through phone lines, now they’re hooked up to the Internet,” she says. “On the bright side, this minor attack, while it may have confused or frightened people, uncovered some weaknesses that we can look at, fix and adjust to, to ensure this doesn’t happen again.”

Tags

Comments (4) -

TVMN Nickname posted a year ago
The last line says it all: We have become a gullible breed.
Thomas Scanlan posted a year ago
I'm proud to know both Kenn and Eric, and whoever the hackers are, they should know they're messing with some of the best and most technically proficient GM's in the business. Way to go, guys!!
Pierow Nickname posted a year ago
Thanks Tom!
John Russo posted a year ago
> Baynard is now blaming Monroe Electronics, > claiming the software has a security flaw. Yeah, it's what's known in tech support nomenclature as an ID-10-T error. It's not the lock company's fault if he leaves his keys under the welcome mat, I'm exhausted to say. “I spent my money on the Clapgo D. 29; it's the most impenetrable lock on the market today. It has only one design flaw: the door... [closing door] must be closed!” – (Seinfeld: Season 1; Episode 3: “The Robbery”)

Classifieds

Marketshare Blog Playout Blog

Twitter

TVNewsCheck

Ratings

Overnights, adults 18-49 for October 22, 2014
  • 1.
    2.8/9
  • 2.
    2.1/7
  • 3.
    2.1/6
  • 4.
    1.5/4
  • 5.
    1.1/3
  • 6.
    0.7/2
Source: Nielsen
Reviews
Opinions
Features
  • Brian Lowry

    Despite a few problematic aspects with the premise, Jane the Virgin contains a secret ingredient that is in short supply, perhaps especially on many of the CW's recent soaps: Charm. Much of that comes from Gina Rodriguez in a star-making turn as the title character, who through a series of unexpected mix-ups — one a real doozy — finds her life beginning to resemble the telenovelas she watches with her doting grandmother, who has cajoled her to remain chaste. There's a lot going on in the pilot, almost all of it fun and frothy, bringing genuine effervescence to CW's soap bubbles.

  • Rob Owen

    A winning star turn can make a big difference in a comedy. It certainly does in ABC’s Cristela, a fairly standard family sitcom that rises above its pedestrian premise thanks to star Cristela Alonzo, a comedian who makes a favorable impression in this series about an Hispanic Texas family. The show leans into humor that’s about life in a Latino family and life for a Hispanic woman in a predominantly Caucasian workplace. What makes the latter go down easily are Cristela’s reactions to her law firm boss’s offensive jabs.

  • Mark Dawidziak

    Pace shouldn't be a problem with a show called The Flash. And it isn't. The CW's high-octane series featuring the super-speedy DC Comics superhero moves briskly along, racing through a pilot episode that charts giddily high on the fun scale. Is some of the dialogue a bit on the heavy-handed side? Well, sure. Are a couple of the supporting characters as thin as a page from a 1950s comic book? OK, yeah. Do a few clunky moments register as overly familiar? All right, yes. Yet it works, mostly because the producers fully and joyfully embrace the comic-book conventions rather than battle against them.

  • Tim Goodman

    Normally the reaction one hears when critics say that there's really no need for an American remake of the eight-episode British gem Broadchurch is that only critics watched it and thus the general public might as well watch the Fox version, called Gracepoint. But that doesn't make a lot of sense. For starters, the original Broadchurch is a brilliant, taut and emotionally devastating portrayal of a child murder in a remote seaside town and the American remake is flat-out inferior, despite maintaining most of the same plot until the seventh (of 10) episodes. There will be a different killer in Gracepoint, but it could be that the real crime was the idea to redo it in the first place.

  • Tom Conroy

    Are there a lot of single women on the far side of 30 who are professionally successful and capable but have chaotic sex lives that bleed into their workdays? Are they yearning to see someone they can relate to on TV? Well, they’re going to have to keep waiting. The title character in NBC’s new sitcom Bad Judge matches that description but is so implausible that no one could identify with her. But she’s not so implausible that the show becomes an outrageous farce. Although some moments can be recognized as jokes, they can’t be enjoyed as such.

This advertisement will close automatically in  second(s). You will see this ad no more than once a day. Skip ad