July 10, 2013

Emergency Alert Or R U Kidding?

BBC News Technology (9 July 2013) reports on how the U.S. Emergency Alert System (EAS) was hacked. 

The EAS is a program of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and was set up "to allow the president to talk to the entire country within 10 minutes of a disaster." It also provides the public with alerts on local weather emergencies, such as tornados and flash floods. 

EAS replaced the Emergency Broadcast System (EBS) in 1997 and with it came security weaknesses.

Earlier this year, those vulnerabilities were tested and exploited when the Montana Television Network was hacked with an alert of a zombie attack.

And it provided advice on how to survive--"Do not approach or apprehend these bodies as they are considered extremely dangerous."

This is reminiscent of the hoax in 1938 when over the radio came a warning that a meteorite had smashed into New Jersey and aliens were attacking New York--an adaptation of H.G. Wells "War of the Worlds."

Well yesterday it was aliens, today it's zombies, and tomorrow it could be an phony announcement of an invasion by country XYZ or perhaps a imminent detonation of a thermonuclear warhead somewhere over the continental U.S. 

Imagine the panic, confusion, and potential loss of life and property from the ensuing chaos. 

It goes without saying that this is not a way to inspire confidence by the citizens in case of a true national emergency. 

If we cannot count on the systems meant to survive an emergency then how can we be expected to survive the emergency itself? 

The EAS may interrupt your regularly scheduled programming with those loud and annoying tests, but what can really ruin you day is a cyber attack on the system that broadcasts something much nastier and more ominous--and you don't really know whether it's the real thing or just another hack. ;-)

(Source Photo: here with attribution to UWW ResNet)


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