Magazine article Risk Management

Zombie Risk Management

Magazine article Risk Management

Zombie Risk Management

Article excerpt

It was an average Monday afternoon in February in Great Falls, Montana. On television, teenage cheaters were being exposed on The Steve Wilkos Show when the broadcast was interrupted by the telltale warning signal of the Emergency Alert System. "Civil authorities in your area have reported that the bodies of the dead are rising from their graves and attacking the living...Do not attempt to approach or apprehend these bodies as they are considered extremely dangerous." It was the moment that decades of horror movies, television shows, video games and books had prepared us for. The zombie apocalypse had begun. Or not.

It turns out that the message, which was also broadcast on television stations in Michigan, California, Utah and New Mexico, was a hoax. (Although reportedly a handful of people did feel the need to call local police to make sure.) Hackers were able to break into the Emergency Alert System by exploiting the fact that the default passwords on the stauons" alert equipment had never been changed. Authorities were not amused and advised broadcasters to change their passwords and review their security measures to prevent future incidents.

The Emergency Alert System, which replaced the Emergency Broadcast System in 1997, is designed to allow the president of the United States to quickly communicate with the country in the event of a national emergency. It is also used by state and local authorities to commum cate weather emergencies and AMBER alerts. While the zombie prank was ultimately innocuous, it did underline the fact that a compromised national alert system could have serious consequences. These hackers weren't malicious, but those with more sinister motives could have very easily started a national panic centered around something more plausible. In addition, by undermining the authority of the system, these hackers were essentially crying wolf, which could cause people to disregard future warnings altogether. Ironically, however, by exposing overlooked vulnerabilities in the Emergency Alert System, the zombie hackers may have actually helped make the system more secure.

Of course, this story probably wouldn't have been nearly as interesting without the zombie angle. …

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