Local news anchors used dry-erase markers and whiteboards after hackers targeted the second-largest TV station owner in the US

·3 min read
Sinclair Broadcast Group logo
Sinclair Broadcast Group was hit by a ransomware attack over the weekend. Pavlo Gonchar/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images
  • A cyberattack has targeted Sinclair Broadcast Group, the US's second-largest local TV station owner.

  • SBG cited the attack in a filing with the SEC, noting it was targeted by attackers seeking ransom.

  • As a result, some of SBG's 185 television stations had to go live without their normal technology.

Sinclair Broadcast Group, the second-largest owner of local television stations in the US, was hit by a cyberattack over the weekend, leaving its employees struggling to keep daily newscasts on-air.

The company confirmed it has been the victim of a ransomware attack in documents filed with the US Securities Exchange Commission on Monday. SBG said they identified "certain servers and workstations" had on Sunday been infiltrated by ransomware.

Some "office and operational networks" were also interrupted, the company told the SEC. According to the documents, the company said data was also taken from its network, adding that it was "working to determine what information the data contained."

One employee of SBG told CNN in an article published Monday they had no access to their phones, email systems, file videos, or graphics used on newscasts.

The incident also took out writing, editing, and scheduling software, per the CNN report.

"They expect us to keep broadcasting as if we aren't down," an SBG employee at another station told CNN. The outlet provided anonymity to the two sources because SBG employees are not permitted to speak to the media about the situation.

The stations in Sinclair's network of 185 TV stations were forced to push forward to put together its newscasts despite missing many of the tools normally used to report local news. Several videos posted to social media of several SBG newscasts show some of the issues described by the staffers in the CNN report.

A video uploaded to YouTube of WJAR, the NBC affiliate in Providence, Rhode Island, showed the station aired a pre-taped 6 p.m. newscast on Sunday rather than air its typical live broadcast. The newscast lacked its usual graphics and branding elements.

"You may have noticed things are a bit different with some of our newscasts and our programming at NBC 10 today," said WJAR anchor Emily Volz in a video of another one of its newscasts that was uploaded to YouTube.

Other newscasters at other SBG stations were tasked with reading a similar message to viewers during their broadcasts.

"That's because our station and our parent company, Sinclair Broadcast Group, were targets of a weekend cyberattack," Volz added. "This attack has impacted many of our network systems across the country and is disrupting some of our normal operations."

In another YouTube video recorded from a KBAK-TV broadcast, the CBS affiliate in Bakersfield, California, morning forecaster Aaron Perlman held an umbrella to indicate impending rain while gesturing toward graphics drawn on a whiteboard with a dry-erase marker, which were used to stand in for the usual weather graphics.

One video shared on Twitter appeared to show WRGB, the CBS affiliated station in Schenectady, New York, featured an "endless" aerial shot of downtown Albany backed to music rather than its usual programming. And another video posted to Twitter showed KATU, the ABC affiliate in Portland, Oregon, using pieces of paper taped to a whiteboard to show sports scores in lieu of their usual on-air sports graphics.

Ransomware attacks have grown more common in the US, experts previously told Insider, with other large attacks this year targeting gas company Colonial Pipeline and meant supplier JBS. These attacks involve hackers infiltrating computer systems and attempting to lock down their data to force companies to pay to regain access.

Other media outlets have similarly faced attacks this year.

As CNN reported, Cox Media Group was hit by a cyberattack this summer, and in the spring, another attack disrupted live broadcasts of Australian broadcaster 9 News.

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