River Radio of Southern Illinois

In an increasingly frequent trend, another radio group has endured a harmful ransomware attack. Less than a week after non-comm adult alternative WMNF (88.5) Tampa reported being hacked, comes news that River Radio of Southern Illinois is a victim, in which its stations’ audio file system was rendered useless. The message for broadcasters is clear: Safeguard your stations now.

“Yes, it can happen in small-town America. We found out the hard way,” said GM/Market Manager Steve Falat in an interview with The Southern. He explained that in the early hours of last Thursday morning, the Carbondale, IL-based stations got a message saying, “All of your files have been encrypted due to a security problem with your PC.” The group behind the message told the station that for payment in Bitcoin, it would receive software to de-encrypt the station's files. The price depended on how fast they acted.

Falat went on the air at 7 a.m. Friday to announce that the radio group, which includes CHR WCIL (101.5), country “Z100” WOOZ and news/talk WJPF (1020/1340), had been hacked. The company also communicated with the FBI. “The FBI did say this is becoming an all too common event,” Falat added. He said agents recognized some of the language and email addresses used from similar cases.

Ironically, the radio company was in talks with Max Media Radio sister stations about this very topic and was planning to back up files to protect them. One of the recommendations he has received is to back up all files to a cloud service as well as physical drives on-site, which adds an extra layer of protection that might be outside a hacker's grasp.

The increasingly urgent issue of radio station ransomware attacks was the topic of a panel at the Radio Show in Las Vegas. During “Preparing for A Cyber Attack: A Case Study,” as Inside Radio reported, KQED San Francisco Chief Technology Officer Dan Mansergh explained the station’s months-long struggle to get things back to normal after a ransomware attack. He suggested techniques broadcasters can use to minimize the risk of successful breaches—which are outlined in the story—adding, “The warning is clear. If you don’t want to have your networks attacked and risk disrupting your business, you need to pay attention and be prepared.” Obviously, insufficient security measures can put a station’s intellectual property–and the broadcast signal itself–at risk.

Urban One also endured a particular egregious cyber-attack in May that temporarily crippled some of its IT systems and databases, preventing it from running commercials, exposing it to potential lawsuits from parties impacted by the breach—and ultimately costing the company at least $1 million.