With news that the White House is set to issue a new cybersecurity executive order on Wednesday, a hacker in Montana managed to tap into the Emergency Broadcast System and air a terrifying message.
If you happened to be watching the Steve Wilkos show on KRTV in Montana this week, an episode exploring "teen cheaters who take lie detector tests" was interrupted by a confusing and possibly terrifying emergency alert.
"Civil authorities in your area have reported that the bodies of the dead are rising from their graves and attacking the living," the message told viewers. "Follow the messages onscreen that will be updated as information becomes available. Do not attempt to approach or apprehend these bodies, as they are considered extremely dangerous."
Was this a viral marketing effort from the producers of The Walking Dead? No, it seems as though some industrious hackers breached the station's emergency alert system, and sent out the bogus warning about zombies attacking the living.
"Someone apparently hacked into the Emergency Alert System and announced on KRTV and the CW that there was an emergency in several Montana counties," the station said in a Monday statement. "This message did not originate from KRTV, and there is no emergency. Our engineers are investigating to determine what happened and if it affected other media outlets."
The message kicked off like any other emergency alert - with the dialup-esque bleeps and tones and an alert crawl atop the screen. But rather than warning about a weather emergency or some other plausible situation, a menacing voice came on to warn people about zombies.
As much as I hate hackers, this one had a certain wit and verve about it. At the same time, playing out against the backdrop of extremely serious efforts by the Chinese to hack their way to economic competiveness by stealing the secrets of American business - not to mention efforts to hack into our national security grid - the effort by the amateurs is worrisome.
The executive order would establish a voluntary program in which companies operating critical infrastructure would elect to meet cybersecurity best practices and standards crafted, in part, by the government.
Observers are expecting the president to briefly mention the need for the country to improve its defenses against cyberattacks during his State of the Union address on Tuesday.
White House press secretary Jay Carney declined Monday to say whether the president would discuss cybersecurity during his Tuesday address to Congress, saying the president believes that it's
"a very important issue."
"It represents a huge challenge for our country. He has called on Congress to take action. Unfortunately, Congress has thus far refused legislatively," Carney said at a press briefing with reporters. "But I don't have any previews to provide."
During last year's address, the president made a brief mention about the cybersecurity legislative blueprint that his administration put forward in May 2011.
As usual, Congress is bogged down over the matter. It's a fight over what "best standards" actually means and how much a role government should play. The president can't compel companies to adopt the best standards rule - only Congress can do that. So we're stuck with a largely voluntary executive order that companies can comply with at their own discretion.