An alert went out to Montana television viewers yesterday on the CW channel using the Emergency Alert System. The message told several Montana counties to be on the alert for a zombie invasion.
Interrupting a broadcast of the Steve Wilkos show episode, titled "Teen Cheaters Take Lie Detectors," an emergency message went out saying:
"Civil authorities in your area have reported that the bodies of the dead are rising from their graves and attacking the living. 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."
The television station, KRTV, responded in a statement that "Someone apparently hacked into the Emergency Alert System... This message did not originate from KRTV, and there is no emergency."
Most media sources have been covering the zombie apocalypse prank with a light tone, but it is the latest in a series of hacker attacks in recent months, all with varying degrees of serious intent, and which have met with varying degrees of success.
Over the weekend, news spread of the Bush family's accounts being hacked by "Guccifer," a hacker who's intent seems mainly to violate the Bush's privacy and embarrass George W. Bush by publicizing pictures of his art. At the beginning of February, both the U.S. Department of Energy and the Federal Reserve confirmed that they had been hacked, exposing employees' personal information but not any high-level U.S. government data.
Even more seriously, at the end of January, Twitter was hacked, exposing a quarter million users' account information, including possibly passwords. That hack followed soon after media organizations like The New York Times and the Washington Post also announced they were hacked, a day or two before.
But the reason why the Zombie hack should worry you is that, this time, the hack wasn't just a violation of privacy or data theft. The hacker ostensibly managed to manipulate an Internet-connected system and do something in the real world. It was actually affecting another medium - television - infusing it with false information. And, remember, this was misinformation delivered on broadcast television by a system with authority: The Emergency Alert System was originally designed to enable the President of the United States to speak to U.S. citizens within 10 minutes. As we see more hack attacks going forward, let's hope the most sophisticated and successful (i.e., disruptive) ones continue to be light-hearted pranks, like this one.