Hackers use alert system for zombie warnings
Thursday, February 14, 2013
DETROIT (AP) — Warnings about the zombie apocalypse may seem pretty amusing, but officials say they’re dead serious about figuring out who hacked into the nation’s public warning system to broadcast such messages in a handful of states.
So far, people in California, Michigan, Montana and New Mexico have heard the warnings about attacking zombies that have been sent over the Emergency Alert System.
“Local authorities in your area have reported the bodies of the dead are rising from their graves and attacking the living,” one message warned. “Do not attempt to approach or apprehend these bodies as they are considered extremely dangerous.”
The subject matter may be humorous, but Greg MacDonald with the Montana Broadcasters Association said the consequences of such attacks on the alert system could be severe.
“This looks like somebody being a prankster, but maybe it’s somebody testing just to see if they could do this, to do some real damage,” MacDonald said. “Suddenly you create a panic and people are fleeing somewhere and you end up with traffic jams and accidents and who knows what.”
The U.S. recently replaced its old telephone-based alert system with a web-based one. The Federal Communications Commission sent an urgent advisory Tuesday urging stations to reset their alert system passwords, disconnect Internet connections or take other steps to make sure the equipment is protected from outside attack.
In Michigan, hackers broke into the system with audio or text messages at two stations on Monday. Michigan Association of Broadcasters President Karole White said the breach appeared to be related to default passwords that the stations hadn’t changed.
In Los Angeles, a radio station that had its alert system breached sent out a zombie message, according to Richard Rudman, a broadcast engineer and vice chair of the California State Emergency Communications Committee. He declined to name the station but said any that were hacked were using default passwords for their alert systems or lacked adequate computer security.
The FCC on Tuesday also asked stations to check their equipment to make sure no further unauthorized alerts were queued up for future transmission, according to a copy of the advisory provided by the Montana Broadcasters Association.
No one has been arrested in connection with the hacking incidents.
Other attempts to access to emergency systems in recent days were thwarted by updated passwords, said Edward Czarnecki with New York-based Monroe Electronics, which manufacturers the alert equipment used by most TV companies.