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A cable news channel in Raleigh, North Carolina shut down a Web application designed to allow local schools and businesses to report weather-related closures last week, after a handful of puckish university students discovered they could use it to add textual graffiti to the station's newscast.

Before the system was pulled, viewers tuning into Time Warner Cable's News 14 Carolina for updates on last week's record-breaking snow storm could read in the text ticker on the lower third of the screen that a company called "h4x0r3d Computer Services Inc." was among the business that would be shuttered the next morning because of the storm.

According to screen shots saved by observers, other messages sprinkled among the genuine closings that rotated through the ticker included "1337 5p34k Linguistic Services", "All Your Base Are Belong To Us", and a note that "Tutone Inc." would be closed, and employees should call "Jenny at 867-5309" for more details.

"We immediately implemented changes to the system," says News 14's Charlie Schell. "It was a Web-based system that we had used two, almost three years, with nobody taking advantage of it."

Before a submitted announcement would appear on the air, it had to be approved by a reviewer, said Schell. But once approved, the system allowed a business to change their name and the details of the closing through the website without any further human attention.

"They didn't actually get in there or compromise any of our equipment. They just signed up as a legitimate business, and then changed their information half-an-hour later," Schell says.

A prankster with the online nickname "underPSI" discovered the loophole Thursday, and, posting to a Web forum for students at North Carolina State University, extolled others to try it. "Be creative," he wrote. "It's pretty neat."

The frenzy of fake announcements that followed included "Windows32 Exception Error. If this is your first time seeing this, please reinstall Windows," and several adult-themed puns. News 14's Schell claims the station received no complaints from viewers.

Businesses in the Raleigh area can still report weather-related closings through the cable channel, but they'll have to pre-register, and phone them in to the station, Schell added.

Copyright © 2004, 0

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