Deborah McAdams /
02.14.2013 04:01 PM
McAdams On: ZombiEAS
Was it a hack or a hot sauce commercial?
SERIOUSLY -- It’s the dead of winter, for crying out loud. The good people of Great Falls, Mont., are not about to fall for some malarkey about bodies rising from graves in February. Not unless great-granddad was buried with a set of chisels and a blowtorch.

Based on what I’ve read so far this week, the Emergency Alert System hack that warned of zombie invasions in a handful of communities did not elicit so much as a phone call from the general public. Given the cultural appetite for zombies, one would expect people to want to see them. You can bet if it went out as a text, the malls of Great Falls would have emptied of Millennials in a heartbeat.

Maybe the public is just so used to the EAS tones that they pay no attention to them. They are, after all, most often accompanied by, “This is a test. This is only a test of the emergency broadcast system. If this were a real emergency…”

Unfortunately, EAS receivers are not so indifferent, and I have to wonder, as one of the great unwashed, why are these things still activated by an audio tone that just about anyone can record? Especially now that the EAS is hooked up to the Interwebs? Word is, a YouTube user created the fake alert used in the hack. It certainly sounds genuine, except for the bit about zombies. The tones are spot on and were enough to trigger a downstream TV station’s EAS receiver when a couple of uninformed DJs replayed the spot at a primary-entry-point radio station in La Crosse, Wis.

The maker of the video, Tyreehot, associated with, said he had no connection to the Montana hack, though in his YouTube comments admits that it was his voice used in it.

“I created this video four years ago as a Halloween prank. It’s been ‘borrowed’ by many others in the past… if the ‘feds’ can connect me here in Atlanta to a TV station in Montana, then they’re the creative ones,” he said.

Maybe, but here’s how the feds feel about their EAS tones:  “No person may transmit or cause to transmit the EAS codes or attention signal, or a recording or simulation thereof, in any circumstance other than in an actual National, State or Local Area emergency or authorized test of the EAS. Any rebroadcast of the EAS tones and attention signal not only would violate FCC rules, but also pose a public danger because rebroadcast of these tones could trigger a false alert from EAS equipment that picks up such a rebroadcast.”

So now we have the tones all over the Internet from which the EAS system now picks up activations. Add a little hackitude, and some dude in Atlanta scores free ad time on a few cold-climate stations for Haunted Hot Sauce.

Whether it was coincidental or otherwise, the zombie hack occurred in conjunction with a threat by Anonymous to disrupt online streaming coverage of President Obama’s State of the Union Address. Since the EAS is also used to deliver emergency presidential messages, whoever pulled this off had best be off the grid. The FCC, FEMA and the FBI are saying no-thing, which can only mean one thing—that Monday is a federal holiday.

I reach a bit here, but I’m guessing POTUS is not amused. I’m sure the cybersecurity executive order-Anonymous threat-zombie EAS hack is just a crazy coincidental mélange, but you have to admit that as crazy coincidental mélanges go, this one rises to the level of almost epic.

Whether or not the consumer press picks up on the implications of this one still remains to be seen. The nation’s emergency alert network was hijacked for the first time since it was created. How hard would it be to edit together a fake video of the president warning us of a more realistic hostile invasion? We’d be shooting at each other like clay pigeons.

Thankfully, I’m skinny, and look remarkably like my surroundings.

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Posted by: Anonymous
Fri, 02-15-2013 10:13 AM Report Comment
Ah, the lengths to which someone will go to advertise their product. We're SO used to internet ads flooding our whitespace that we've developed an immunity to the ad virus, so newer methods must be developed. I fear really creative nut cases will find a way to invade my dreams with promises of hair restoration or faster shoes.
Posted by: Anonymous
Fri, 02-15-2013 10:48 AM Report Comment
>> why are these things still activated by an audio tone that just about anyone can record? No, NOT just about anyone can record these. Someone did manage to hack into a real EAS encoding device, and they programmed it to trigger the alert with legitimate data - that's why it worked. Most of the subsequent activations were due to other stations' decoders responding to replays of the data - which was by that time out-of-date, and not for their area. (This is also a problem.) Although I can imagine ways in which you could initiate something far more widespread, the national system was not hacked, this was 2 or 3 individual stations. Fortunately, it is clear that the general public is wiser than they are generally given credit for.
Posted by: Anonymous
Fri, 02-15-2013 02:52 PM Report Comment
EAS is designed to be as robust as possible. The tones are supposed to carry through even on the brink of the end of the world. And EAS has no authentication. (CAP does, use it.) It doesn't matter how you get audio into an appropriate broadcast stream and you can trigger down-stream EAS units and consumer equipment. Live phone-in DJ's should be extra wary of a caller suddenly feeding in tones from the phone line, for example. Generating the tones is not only no secret; it's a published open federal standard, complete with a few Wikipedia pages on exactly how to construct the tones. Anyone savvy in programming can create the tones out of their sound card. I'm not sure if there's an App for that yet. Protect your on-air audio stream like your station license, and lives, depend on it; and learn a few basic IT security steps like not using default passwords (= not a password) and setting up a fire wall and help keep the system secure for all of us. There's an implied - and federally required - trust between all broadcasters to allow EAS to function; please don't break that trust. - Mikko Wilson
Posted by: Anonymous
Fri, 02-15-2013 03:06 PM Report Comment
Let's withhold judgement and jumping to conclusions until we learn how this happened. The FCC immediately assumed a local station was "hacked" via the internet, but why go to all that trouble? You just record a legitimate CAE alert, edit in your own audio, the sit in the parking lot of a radio or TV station with an illegal Ramsey FM micro transmitter tuned to the LP1 or LP2 frequency and your on the air! The assumption that it was Chinese or Iranian hackers that got into a CAPS unit that was not password protected is a bit far fetched. CAPS units can't originate an alert and most are behind firewalls, although if you did get in, you could redirect the unit to look at a server other than FEMA's, but you would need to know the FEMA protocol and encryption.
Posted by: Anonymous
Fri, 02-15-2013 03:46 PM Report Comment
"I reach a bit here, but I’m guessing POTUS is not amused." I'm wondering if POTUS would even have been made aware of this happening. Who would want to push it that far up the food chain, and why? Major world leaders live each in their own protected little news bubbles.
Posted by: Anonymous
Fri, 03-29-2013 01:08 PM Report Comment
continued from leastt comment: Oh, I forgot! And there's also no Media Take-Over! There's not even media! All is just part of your stupid dream of seeing tv instead investing your time on LIVING!!! There's not even living! This is also just a part of your stupid dream to have a chance in your stupid life to wear Calvin Klein, drive Bentley, eat Mac Donalds and see talkshows on tv with people that's more stupid than you. There's not even CK, Bentley, Mac Donalds or talk shows

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