Hackers target U.P. TV stations


For The Daily News

MARQUETTE – The message about dead rising from their graves has created a great deal of buzz on social networking sites and many zombie jokes.

But the hacking of two Marquette television stations’ Emergency Alert System Monday could have chilling implications.

WNMU-TV13 and WBUP ABC 10 were the victims of hacking incidents Monday in which audio messages and a crawl strip were put through by someone using the system designed to inform the public of real emergencies. The messages were similar, warning people to not approach those rising from their graves and “attacking the living.”

“It happened shortly before 4 p.m., just before we went into local news,” said Eric Smith, WNMU’s general manager. “We were very surprised. It’s a huge concern. The integrity of the Emergency Alert System is something we take seriously.”

For ABC 10, the interruption came during the airing of “The Bachelor,” at about 8:36 p.m. Monday.

“The Emergency Alert System is an important external messaging system broadcasters are required to have,” said Cynthia Thompson, ABC 10’s news director and station manager.”

The system allows agencies like the Michigan State Police, governor’s office and the National Weather Service to get out important information to the public.

“The system apparently has some way a person with computer knowledge was able to get in. It’s nothing to do with a lack of security at our station. It was an outside system that was attacked,” Thompson said.

Smith said he immediately contacted the Michigan Association of Broadcasters.

“Their engineering department manages the system,” Smith said.

Karole L. White, president and CEO of the MAB, said investigation includes “lots of people with authority on the local, state and national level.”

“Right now, there are meetings going on between (WNMU’s) IT people, the equipment manufacturer and our head of the Emergency Alert System,” White said. “This is the first time since the Emergency Alert System was put together in the 1940s that something like this has happened. It has been about one year since we went online with an Internet system.”

Previously, the alert system had been a telephone-based system. Now, the EAS has equipment that allows an “autopilot” system to go into use when station personnel are not physically present.

“In the meantime, we are asking all TV stations at this time to preview all messages in advance (of airing them) and to contact the Michigan State Police should there be any questions.”

Smith said the Michigan State Police and Marquette Police Department are part of the investigation locally. Thompson said the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Federal Communication Commission are also joining in the probe.