Hacker broadcasts emergency zombie apocalypse warning on TV station in Montana

What if you are watching TV, when the program is suddenly interrupted with this emergency alert warning:

Civil authorities in your area have reported that the bodies of the dead are rising from their graves and attacking the living. Follow the messages on screen that will be updated as information becomes available. Do not attempt to approach or apprehend these bodies as they are considered extremely dangerous.

The emergency broadcast happened in the afternoon, during an episode of The Steve Wilkos Show. KRTV, a CBS affiliate, said on its website, “Someone apparently hacked into the Emergency Alert System and announced on KRTV and the CW that was an emergency in several Montana counties. The message did not originate from KRTV, and there is no emergency. Our engineers are investigating to determine what happened and if it affected other media outlets.”

The Great Falls Tribune reported that the local police were not sure “what sort of penalties a person faces, if any, in Montana for hacking into an emergency alert system.” According to GFPD Lt. Shane Sorensen:

“We had four calls checking to see if it was true. And then I thought, ‘Wait. What if?’” Sorensen said with a laugh. “We can report in the city, there have been no sightings of dead bodies rising from the ground.”

Hacker broadcasts emergency zombie apocalypse warning via Montana TV station

Was this accomplished because of security vulnerabilities still in the FEMA run Emergency Alert System (EAS?) The agency was far from amused the last time there was talk of hacking the EAS.

In November of 2011, there was a discussion about “Occupy the Airwaves” and hackers potentially hijacking TV and radio stations. Hacker and computer expert called "Jake" aka "Secret Squirrel" had said to ABC7News, "The potential is that you could hijack all radio and TV stations across the country. There's no authentication, there's no encryption, there's no passwords, there's nothing that is required to send what would appear to be a valid message. I would then play the tones on my laptop, they get transmitted by the radio, I then play my audio message and then I just pack everything up and walk away."

He said that the EAS messages are automated and go straight to the air, so a fake emergency alert would not likely be caught before it broadcast. Flesh-hungry zombies seem downright mellow compared to Jake’s idea. His example of a message might be "there were 20 dirty bombs or something like that that were detonated," but a War of the Worlds type message could cause wide-spread panic and chaos.

At that time, San Francisco State Broadcast Professor Marie Drennan said that it wasn’t just "backwoods rural folks" who fell for War of the Worlds. Drennan told ABC, "I have to admit the idea of taking over the EAS, I love it, I love it, I love it -- but I can see how it could go horrible wrong."

Last time, FEMA issued this statement regarding the EAS security vulnerability.

FEMA takes any potential threats seriously and we evaluate all such claims to determine their validity. The Emergency Alert System already has adequate safety and security measures in place to ensure that it will only be used by appropriate officials as a way to communicate with the American people in the event of a real emergency.

I didn't see any new statements for this zombie apocalypse EAS warning on FEMA's websites. However FEMA does not have Montana (MT) listed as having “completed the necessary authentication steps to use the Integrated Public Alert and Warning System (IPAWS).”

Copyright © 2013 IDG Communications, Inc.

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