When TV broadcasters rebuild their transmission systems for ATSC 3.0 or the repack over the next several years, they will be tempted to integrate the Internet into the control and monitoring functions. It will likely make things easier and save both labor and money. They should think twice. If the experts are right and there is no way to absolutely secure anything directly or indirectly tied to the Internet, stations might be smart to isolate the transmission system from the Internet so they can always be on the air when they need to be.
That something can be connected to the Internet doesn’t mean it should be connected to the Internet. This occurred to me while watching a 60 Minutes report on how the new net-connected cars can be hacked.
As Lesley Stahl drives around a parking lot, a hacker takes over her car. The experiment goes from amusing (windshield wipers and fluid) to startling (horn) to “frightening” (the brakes).
I still don’t like the idea of cars dependent on computer chips, let alone connected. My first car, a used 1968 Chevy Malibu, was all electro-mechanical, no silicon, except maybe some transistors or chips in the AM radio. You didn’t need a computer to make sure that it was running smoothly — just a screwdriver, the right wrench and a good ear.
Like automobiles, TV stations over the years have become increasingly dependent upon silicon in all its increasingly sophisticated and capable manifestations — transistors, integrated circuits and CPUs.
Now in the fourth decade of the digital revolution, stations are quickly morphing into complexes of interconnected computers running specialized software. You need IT experts to keep them up and running.
The Internet started burrowing into station operations in the 1990s as broadcasters swapped out faxes for email and put up the first iterations of their websites.
Taking advantage of the Net’s unsurpassed convenience, ease of use and economy of operation, stations have come to rely on the Internet for many other functions, including ingest of commercials and programming, sharing of news clips, monitoring and control, newsgathering and other aspects of production.
One of the big stories of 2015 has been programmatic — or automated — buying, using the Internet to connect buyers and sellers of ad time and space to streamline the transactions.
Another is broadcasters’ adoption of IP for moving around digital files. IP is the language of the Internet.
But the Internet is not a perfect tool. As 60 Minutes graphically illustrated, a link to the Internet is an invitation to hackers, computer pranksters, digital vandals and cyber terrorists.
On June 23, we posted a story by Cynthia Brumfield detailing the concern among media companies about their vulnerability to cyber attacks of all kinds through the Internet.
The threat was made clear to all by what happened to TV5Monde. On April 8, the French broadcaster suffered a full-blown assault during which email and production were hobbled, social media were hijacked and broadcasts were disrupted.
Authorities are still not sure who was responsible. A pro-ISIS group calling itself the Cyber Caliphate claimed credit for the attack, although officials say it could have been a “false flag” operation by Russian hackers.
Other media attacks have been directed at big companies, notably Sony. But if you think you’re safe because you’re in a small market and who would bother, know that WBOC, the CBS affiliate in tiny Salisbury, Md. (DMA 143), lost control of its Twitter feed and website.
The good news is that efforts to further harden media companies are well underway. According to Brumfield’s story, committees operating under the aegis of the National Institute of Standards and Technology and the FCC have identified many of broadcasting’s vulnerabilities and are developing ways to eliminate or mitigate them.
More work has to be done. And each and every broadcaster must implement security measures and adopt best practices, knowing that there is no panacea.
In fact, Kelly Williams, the NAB cyber security expert, says the real goal is resilience. “It’s about staying on the air,” he told Brumfield. “You will get attacked, malware will get into the system and there will be security breaches. But if it doesn’t take you off the air, you will have done your job.”
In other words, when it comes to the Internet, you learn to take the good with the bad and deal with the bad.
One way of dealing is to avoid the Internet. Like I said, that something can be connected to the Internet doesn’t mean it should be connected to the Internet.
Every broadcaster knows that Job One is to keep the station on the air. That goes for the small-market AM daytimer as well as the large market O&O. It’s always a matter of preserving revenue; it can sometimes be a matter of life and death.
When TV broadcasters rebuild their transmission systems for ATSC 3.0 or the repack (or both) over the next several years, they will be tempted to integrate the Internet into the control and monitoring functions (if they haven’t already). It will likely make things easier and save both labor and money.
They should think twice. If the experts are right and there is no way to absolutely secure anything directly or indirectly tied to the Internet, broadcasters might be smart to isolate the transmission system (and some rudimentary production gear) from the Internet so they can always be on the air when they need to be. When it comes to reliability, sometime older technology is better.
The Internet of Things is trendy, but broadcasting is not a thing.