US Emergency Alert System open to hack attack

    Date13 Aug 2004
    CategoryGovernment
    3790
    Posted ByAnthony Pell
    The US Emergency Alert System (EAS) that lets officials instantly interrupt radio and TV broadcasts to provide emergency information in a crisis suffers from security holes that leave it vulnerable to denial of service attacks, and could even permit hackers to issue their own false regional alerts, federal regulators acknowledged Thursday. . . . The US Emergency Alert System (EAS) that lets officials instantly interrupt radio and TV broadcasts to provide emergency information in a crisis suffers from security holes that leave it vulnerable to denial of service attacks, and could even permit hackers to issue their own false regional alerts, federal regulators acknowledged Thursday.

    "Security and encryption were not the primary design criteria when EAS was developed and initially implemented," the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) wrote in a public notice launching a review of the system. "Now, however, emergency managers are becoming more aware of potential vulnerabilities within the system. For example, the complete EAS protocol is a matter of public record and potentially subject to malicious activations or interference."

    The EAS was launched in 1997 to replace the cold-war era Emergency Broadcast System known best for making the phrase "this is only a test" a cultural touchstone. Like that earlier system, the EAS is designed to allow the President to interrupt television and radio programming and speak directly to the American people in the event of an impending nuclear war, or a similarly extreme national emergency. The system has never been activated for that purpose, but state and local officials have found it a valuable channel for warning the public of regional emergencies, including the "Amber Alerts" credited with the recovery of 150 abducted children.

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