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Brace for MORE ZOMBIE ATTACK ALERT pranks, warns security bod

Passwords left on default, kit facing the web, and worse

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Vulnerabilities in America's TV emergency alert system - exploited last week by pranksters to put out fake warnings of a zombie apocalypse - remain widespread, it is claimed. And that's after station bosses remember to change the default passwords on their broadcast equipment.

Mischievous miscreants managed to hack into a television station's emergency alert system in Montana to broadcast an on-air audio warning about the end of the world.

The attack on KRTC's equipment was repeated in other three states: two stations were electronically broken into in Michigan as well as several others in California, Montana and New Mexico, according to Karole White, president of the Michigan Association of Broadcasters. "It isn't what [the pranksters] said," White said. "It is the fact that they got into the system."

It is understood the hacks were possible because the TV stations had failed to change the default passwords on kit facing the public internet. An advisory sent by regulators at the FCC to broadcasters urged IT bosses to take immediate action to correct the problem: they were told to change all passwords on equipment regardless of the manufacturer as well as make sure that kit was protected behind a firewall and that hackers had not queued up bogus alerts for later transmission.

Reuters reports that an alert controller box from Monroe Electronics had been abused to carry out at least some of the apocalypse pranks. Monroe responded by publishing an advisory on its web site:

To improve overall security all One-Net R189 users are urged to: 1. Change the factory default password immediately 2. Make sure all network connections are behind secure firewalls

Meanwhile, researchers at IOActive Labs discovered a substantial number of insecure emergency alert system devices directly connected to internet, making it possible for hackers to exploit holes in attacks that go beyond pure mischief.

Mike Davis, a hardware expert at the computer security biz, told Reuters that by using Google he was able to find 30 alert systems across the US that were vulnerable to attack. The security flaws allow attackers to remotely compromise these devices and broadcast official alerts through US radio and TV stations.

Davis discovered weak cryptography and security shortcomings in the firmware loaded into emergency warning systems. He reported the vulnerabilities to the US's Computer Emergency Response Team about a month ago but is not revealing details of the vulnerabilities nor the names of the manufacturers they affect, pending confirmation of a fix, Kaspersky Lab's Threatpost blog reports. ®

Internet Security Threat Report 2014

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