Sinclair Broadcasting hit with ransomware attack

Numerous stations still struggling as of Tuesday; station group facing a host of other problems

A ransomware attack on Sinclair’s local stations has crippled the nation’s second-largest broadcast group. 

The attack has hampered e-mails, phone systems, and computer networks; affected stations’ traffic departments as they were unable to run commercials, costing stations ad revenue; and unable to produce graphics and operate teleprompters at news stations. According to numerous reports, those problems – which began Sunday, have now persisted into Tuesday. The news was first reported on Sunday by cybersecurity site The Record. 

Sinclair stations nationwide suffered from various hiccups. In downstate Springfield, ABC affiliate WICS had reports of pixelated screens and a newscast from midday being rerun at 5 p.m. In South Bend, Ind. Monday and Tuesday, CBS affiliate WSBT was unable to air Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy! and ran the company’s National Desk newscasts instead. Flagship WBFF in Baltimore had no way to do live reports and relied on pre-taped pieces. And meteorologists at numerous stations had to resort to using a whiteboard and a marker to do the weather forecasts (imagine if Tom Skilling had to deal with this.) Several NFL games were also affected Sunday, including in Omaha, Neb. where Fox affiliate KPTM as a Packers-Bears replaced by celebrity bowling (lucky them.) 

“Ransomware” attacks had been occurring more frequently in the last year, affecting various industries from oil pipelines to insurance companies. Earlier, Cox Communications suffered from an attack, as did Australia’s News Nine. Hackers can steal data from a server and hold it at ransom until a financial demand is met. Think of this as a “high-tech kidnapping.”

The attack is the latest of broadsides against the broadcaster, known mostly for its right-wing tilt on their local newscasts – and of course, this gem from 2018. Sinclair is still dealing with massive debt from its acquisition of Fox’s regional sports networks and the subsidiary created to run them – Diamond Sports Group – is rumored to be heading for bankruptcy. Last week, MLB commissioner Rob Manfred blasted Sinclair last week, saying the broadcaster doesn’t have all the rights to even consider launching a direct-to-consumer streaming service for his product. In fact, MLB is now considering launching such a service on their own

Media analysts have also blasted the Sinclair streaming plan. “Sinclair has tried to convince investors that it can avoid a Diamond Sports bankruptcy by transforming its fourteen RSNs [with baseball rights] from being locked into the legacy MVPD/[virtual] MVPDs bundles to a direct-to-consumer, over-the-top streaming service … and that there is a robust sports betting opportunity for the Diamond Sports RSNs to take advantage of,said Rich Greenfield of LightShed Media Partners, who regularly blasts Sinclair for acquiring regional sports networks, saying they’re an outdated relic. 

The fourteen RSNs in question do not include the Chicago Cubs’ Marquee Network, which is run as a joint venture with Sinclair. 

And to add to Sinclair’s misery, their contract with Dish is up on Thursday, extended numerous times since last summer. If no deal is reached, or if there is no extension of the current deal, Sinclair would join Tegna as major broadcasters whose stations were pulled off of the satellite service. 

The problems described above is yet another blow to linear TV as viewers continue to head to streaming services. Broadcast groups are now asking the FCC to classify over-the-top streaming services as multichannel video programming distributors (MVPD) to bring them into line with cable and satellite providers in terms of retransmission deals. In other words, to get money from them.

Perhaps they can use some of that money to get better cybersecurity systems for their stations. 




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