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News stations in 6 Montana towns coping with cyber attack

News stations in 6 Montana towns coping with cyber attack

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News stations owned by Cowles Montana Media were "hit across the board" Sunday night in a cyber attack that continued to block access Wednesday to companywide operating software, their president said.

About 10 news stations owned by the company, including KULR8 in Billings, are stuck at a stand-still due to a cyber attack Sunday night. Stations in Missoula, Helena, Great Falls, Bozeman and Butte are also affected by the attack.

Stations in Washington, where Cowles is headquartered, and Idaho have also been affected.

Patricia McRae, president of Cowles Montana Media and KHQ Inc., said that systems and software are integrated among all the TV stations. The attack to the vital software has caused delays in video feedback and has limited the use of graphics, weather systems, and more. 

For the next few days, McRae said that everything is being done by hand until system operations are running smoothly again.

"We got hit across the board," McRae said.

While crews are working on doing a full sweep and downloading new anti-virus on all of the stations' computers, station employees will continue to cover local events and go on with business. The company reported the attack to the FBI, McRae said. She couldn't comment further on the investigation into the attack.

In Montana, stations have pooled resources and news content to create a statewide news broadcast out of KTMF in Missoula at its regular morning and evening show times.

"So each individual market isn't producing their own newscast right now," McRae said. "At least to have an on-air presence and an on-air product, we're doing statewide news on our newscast for all the markets." 

McRae noted that no personal employee or advertiser data was compromised in the breach. It's unclear where the attack originated.

While an attack like this has never happened to Cowles Montana Media, McRae said that it happens to other businesses as well. The attack was reported to the FBI, but McRae declined to comment on the investigation or if any demands were tied to the hacking.

The FBI's annual Internet Crime Report for 2018 showed that internet theft, fraud and exploitation were responsible for $2.7 billion in financial losses. The Internet Crime Complaint Center received over 350,000 complaints in 2018.

"At this point and where we are in the world, it's not a matter of if, it's a matter of when," she said. "Unfortunately, our when was this week."


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