Network security was in the news again recently as several television stations connected to the Emergency Alert System experienced a revival of the classic “hack”, a term which has sadly taken on new meaning in the digital age. While modern hackers steal credit card numbers and wreak havoc with web servers around the world, there was a time in the not so distant past when hacking was a much grander sport played by some of the most brilliant minds of the time. In those days hacks were rated on the basis of technical difficulty and spectacularity of the results, rather than mere havoc wreaked or data stolen. MIT, for example, has a long and rich tradition of hacking with such illustrious participants as Nobel Laureates Richard Feynman and George F. Smoot who were memorialized for their accomplishments in the University’s Hall of Hacks section of the MIT Museum. Perhaps the most famous of the institution’s hacks occurred in 1994 when a real police cruiser was placed a top the Great Dome with its lights flashing and a mannequin behind the wheel enjoying coffee and donuts. The more recent event was very much in that sacred tradition and was also reminiscent of Orson Welles’ famous “War of the Worlds” broadcast of 1938. As events unfolded, citizens in several states received a warning on their local TV stations via the Emergency Alert System that zombies had risen from the grave and were attacking the living. A video of the broadcast can be viewed here.
Although this prank was completely harmless, the compromise of the Emergency Alert System raised serious and justified concerns and the federal government responded quickly with warnings and mandates for immediate action. Investigations were launched which quickly determined that the breach was caused by intrusions into hardware at several stations whose user names and passwords had never been changed from the factory defaults which were readily available on the internet. This discovery should give everyone responsible for networked computers pause to wonder how secure their own systems are, and what may have been overlooked in their design and implementation. At Columbus Data we are constantly striving to improve the web security of our clients, so if you agree that this is an appropriate time for a security analysis, then contact us today and let us answer that question for you.