One of the largest TV broadcasters in the US was targeted in likely ransomware attack

Hackers reportedly steal data from Sinclair Broadcast Group after suspected ransomware hit

Alex Woodward
New York
Monday 18 October 2021 18:37
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Sinclair Broadcasting Group coordinates anti-fake news script across tens of local news stations in US
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Sinclair Broadcast Group, one of the largest media companies and broadcasters in the US, was targeted in a cyberattack that disrupted several television stations over the weekend, the company announced in a government filing and in a news release.

In a filing with the US Securities and Exchange Commission on 18 October, the company reported that several of its stations were encrypted with ransomware, potentially exploited by hackers.

The filing followed a report from online news organisation The Record, which first reported a likely cyberattack following widespread reports of “technical issues” across Sinclar stations.

Sinclair identified “certain servers and workstations in its environment were encrypted with ransomware, and that certain office and operational networks were disrupted” and that “data also was taken from the company’s network.”

“The company is working to determine what information the data contained and will take other actions as appropriate based on its review,” according to the filing. A “forensic investigation” is ongoing.

Sinclair also reported that the attack “caused – and may continue to cause – disruption to parts of the company’s business, including certain aspects of its provision of local advertisements.”

The company owns or operates nearly 200 stations in 86 markets across the US, including local affiliates for ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox.

According to The Record, the attack impacted internal systems, email and phone lines as well as broadcasting systems for several local TV stations.

Impacted channels could not broadcast morning news, scheduled NFL games and other programming, according to The Record.

Ransomware attacks effectively act as extortion or blackmail tools that target computer systems that a hacker may use to encrypt or steal files in exchange for money or information.

The Sinclair incident follows a ransomware attack on Colonial Pipeline that impacted fuel operations along the East Coast, and a JBS Foods hack impacting one of the world’s largest food processors. In June, Cox Media Group also was hit in a ransomware attack that impacted affiliate news stations for several days.

Stations bought by Sinclair – a Fortune 500 company with annual revenues nearing $6bn in 2020 – “reduce coverage of local politics, increase national coverage and move the ideological tone of coverage in a conservative direction relative to other stations operating in the same market,” according to an analysis from a group at Emory University.

The company has also repeatedly faced criticism for its role in consolidating news coverage across the US, including promoting syndicated right-wing commentators, injecting partisan political coverage into local news, and airing identical “must-run” segments across its stations, like one that warned against “fake news” in mainstream media.

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