When Hackers Hacked Live TV


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The Zombie Invasion Hack

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KRTV, a station in Montana got hacked in February, 2013, during an episode of The Steve Wilkos Show. This wasn’t an ordinary television hack though, the hacker actually got into the state’s emergency alert system. The hacker warned everyone watching that there was a full on zombie invasion happening in Montana. These zombies have left their graves and were causing mayhem in the streets. The hacker said to not approach any of the undead. 

Surprise, Surprise, no one took the warning seriously. Actually, it was reported that a lot of people thought it was a promo for the zombie show The Walking Dead that was popular at the time. An investigation was done and found out that the hacker tried to hack several tv stations at once but could only get the one. The hackers identity is still a mystery today.  



The Weather Channel Ransom Hack

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On Thursday morning, April 18th, 2019, someone hacked the Weather channel at six in the morning. But instead of showing something on screen the hacker just wanted ransom money for the weather channel to get its channel back. It took the Weather Channel an hour and thirty-nine minutes to get its live tv signal back without paying anything. During that time they re-ran a previously taped show. Once the anchors were finally live on air they explained to the audience what had happened. That they were the victims of a malicious software attack and that they were sorry. A federal investigation was launched but the hacker is still at large today. 



An Alien Called Vrillon

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On November 26, 1977, someone hacked the 5 o’clock evening news on a channel in the U.K. The audience could still see the news anchor giving the news but he was muted. His voice was replaced with an Alien’s voice who said his name was Vrillon. Vrillon then lectured the viewers that humans needed to live in peace for them to go further to the “higher realms of spiritual evolution.” He also said every weapon on earth needed to be destroyed. The newscaster had no idea what was going on while the station engineers tried to get back their audio. The audience thought it was a mixup or a prank. After Vrillon was done giving his speech the audio went back to normal. Still to this day no one knows who Vrillon really is. 



$12.95/Month? No Way!

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On April 27, 1986, HBO was showing the movie The Falcon and the Snowman when they were hacked for four and a half minutes. The hacker was called Captain Midnight and during that four and a half minutes he put up a still title slate that read; “Good evening HBO, From Captain Midnight, $12.95 a Month?, No Way! {Showtime/Movie Channel Beware!} .” 

So, to add a little context to this, during the 1980’s anyone who had a satellite dish could pickup signals from any satellite station.  Then many cable stations started scrambling their signals so people couldn’t have access to them unless they paid. They greatly affected the sales of satellite dish makers since people were now just using cable for their paid services. 

So, this leads us to why this hack happened. Investigators discovered that the hacker was John MacDougall, who had a bone to pick with HBO because he was an engineer at a major dish seller. His job was to upload movies for satellite transmission. So, he uploaded the film for HBO then he used his equipment to transmit his message. He was arrested a few months later by the Federal Communications Commission. He got off relatively light with a year of probation and a $5,000 fine.



Playboy Hack

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In September, 1987, the two adult entertainment channels, Playboy and American Exxxtasy, were hacked three times in the same day. The hacker got into American Exxxtasy twice and Playboy once. During the channel’s regularly scheduled programming, it was suddenly interrupted and a religious message appeared. 

The hacker was eventually found out. His name was Thomas M. Haynie. He was a 38 year old engineer who worked for the Christian Broadcast Network (CBN). The investigators said that Haynie used his network’s equipment to hack the other stations. But CBN claimed that their equipment wasn’t compatible with Playboy’s or American Exxxtasy’s. The investigators proved that they were at least compatible with Playboy’s and Haynie got a felony and a misdemeanor. They couldn’t prove that he also hacked into American Exxxtasy. 



The Max Headroom Intrusion Signal

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Perhaps one of the most famous television hacks is what’s known as the Max Headroom Intrusion Signal. On the night of November 22, 1987 a hacker hacked the signal of WTTW in Chicago. Not long before this the hacker hacked WGN-TV, also in Chicago, but the station got their signal back quickly.

The hacker replaced the TV station’s live signal with a bizarre video of a man in a mask to resemble the 1980’s fictional character, the robot TV host, Max Headroom. The man in the mask went on a weird rant of calling the news anchor for WGN a “frickin liberal”, then did an impromptu commercial for Pepsi, but with a Coca Cola slogan and exposed his butt while a woman spanked him with a fly swatter. The whole thing was 90 seconds. The next day the incident made national news and and became a pop culture sensation. The identity of the perpetuator has never been revealed. An FCC official was once quoted that if he or she had been found they could have gotten a $10,000 fine and a year in jail. 



The Super Bowl Porno Hack

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While Super Bowl XLIII was live, the station KVOA in Tucson, Arizona, had a hack everyone would remember forever. During the football game, which was the Arizona Cardinals vs the Pittsburgh Steelers, the hacker put in a 30 second clip of pornography in the 4th quarter of the match. The hack only affected viewers in Tucson who were watching the game on KVOA through Comcast. Some of the people who saw it reportedly said that they thought it was a commercial of some sort but when the couple on screen started doing very graphic things they knew something was up. Comcast ended up giving a $10 credit to 80,000 pissed off customers because of the hack. A couple years later, the FBI found the hacker who was Frank Tanori Gonzales. Frank worked at Cox Cable when he hacked Comcast. He pled guilty saying he did it to play a prank on his friend, he didn’t mean for the public to see it.  


Peter O'Melia