As someone who spent many years working in Broadcasting, I can tell you this is every station’s worst nightmare. Hackers were able to take over the automation system of a three radio stations in Louisiana by getting into the automation system and demanding money to release it.
According to the Louisiana Association of Broadcasters, the stations were running automation programs on a Windows XP computer. The owner thought the stations would be safe, despite the end of security support for Windows XP, because he had a firewall. (Clearly, he’s not been reading the Tech Tips Newsletter) Now he’s rethinking that position, upgrading all of the computers and software in his facilities and encouraging other stations to do the same.
These days radio and TV stations use automation software. They input commercials, songs and programs as digital files and put them in a playlist that runs according to a schedule. Many radio stations prerecord their DJs or use satellite radio programming, so there’s often no one at a radio station overnight.
At this particular operation, when the morning crew went in at 5 a.m., they discovered they couldn’t get audio over the air and couldn’t get into the computer to fix anything. Then ransom e-mails began to arrive, demanding money to allow the station back on the air.
In total, three stations were off the air for seven hours. Posts on other industry websites show that hackers trying to get into broadcast automation systems are not uncommon. One engineer reported multiple attempts to hack into his station coming from IP addresses in Russia and China.
There are a lot of broadcast operations still running on Windows XP. Updated automation software is expensive, but in the long run probably not as expensive as the potential for losing all that ad revenue, viewers and listeners if your station goes down due to a hijacking.