Will Emergency Alert Vulnerability lead to new Zombie Attack Warnings?

You are sitting with your best friend watching TV when the shrill warning of the Emergency Alert Warning goes off on your TV.  As the text scrolls across the screen you wonder if it could it be an approaching storm or worse, a tornado warning. But not this time.

It is something much better,

A Zombie attack!

But before you pile into your car, grab your girlfriend Liz, then head to the Winchester to have a nice cold pint and wait for all of this to blow over  like in ‘Shaun of the Dead’. The zombie apocalypse you are being threatened with could just be a fake warning posted by a hacker.

This is exactly what happened to TV viewers in Great Falls, Montana back in February. An infomercial was interrupted by the familiar warning bell and an Emergency Alert warning stating “bodies of the dead are rising from their graves and attacking the living“. They were warned “Do not attempt to approach or apprehend the bodies as they are considered extremely dangerous.”

The warning was fake of course, as a hacker had obtained control of the Emergency Alert System. And it could happen again as a new security vulnerability has been found in the system.

According to The Register, security “researchers at IOActive have found that systems used to receive and authenticate emergency alert messages are vulnerable to remote attack.”

Apparently root level SSH keys in some Linux Web App Servers used by the alert system have been publicly released in a firmware upgrade.

This key allows an attacker to remotely log on in over the internet and can manipulate any system function. For example, they could disrupt a station’s ability to transmit and could disseminate false emergency information. For any of these issues to be resolved, we believe that re-engineering needs to be done on the digital alerting system side and firmware updates to be pushed to all appliances,” said Mike Davis of IOActive.

Not good, as many rely heavily on the Emergency Alert System. Especially in areas that have strong or unpredictable weather patterns.

Until the situation is remedied, if you receive a Zombie Apocalypse warning from the TV, think twice before you grab your shotgun and head down to the cemetery to play Left 4 Dead 2 in real life…

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