Radio stations are really hard to knock off the air. That's why having an emergency radio - like this great model I sell in my shop - is essential in a disaster. When other sources of information fail, radio often will still tell you what's going on.
Of course, there are a few things that can bring a radio station down - a major tornado knocking out the broadcast tower, a severe geomagnetic storm, a flood or earthquake destroying the station itself, or maybe just a copy of Windows XP.
Perhaps I should explain that last one, since Windows XP and "natural disaster" don't often appear in the same sentence (go ahead and post your Microsoft jokes in the comments below - I know you just thought of a few).
An unnamed radio station in Louisiana recently went dark for seven hours after hackers broke through the firewall - probably with a phishing scam - and attacked the station's audio systems. These are the systems that play all the station's music, commercials and other programming. Apparently, the computers that controlled the station's audio were running Windows XP - and didn't stand a chance.
This is why I spent a year warning you about the end of security updates for XP and that you really need to upgrade. Apparently this radio station either never got the message - or worse yet, ignored it.
The FCC is using this event as a wake-up call for radio and TV stations that they need to upgrade their systems. This time, the hackers just knocked the station off the air, but in the future hackers might take control and broadcast their own message - especially if the hackers are from a group like ISIS.
Bad guys taking over the airwaves happens regularly in Hollywood movies - "Die Hard 4" and "Iron Man 3" are just two recent examples - but it never seemed realistic until now. Fortunately, compromising just a single station won't let a hacker make nationwide broadcasts, but even locally they could do plenty of damage with false reports. Imagine fake disaster warnings or school closings - though some kids might not mind that so much.
This concern isn't just for radio and TV stations. For a while now, experts have been sounding the alarm on the U.S. power grid and how easy it would be for hackers to take it down. In fact, this summer there were reports that hackers had already gotten into power grid computers. There's also a danger hackers could take control of traffic lights.
You can't help secure any of these computers yourself, but there is a way you can help. Hackers often use botnets - or huge networks of infected computers - in their attacks.
You can stop your computer from becoming part of a botnet with some simple security steps. These will also keep you safe from data-stealing viruses that can ruin your identity or put your money at risk. Click here for the simple security steps you should take today.
And please, if you are still using Windows XP, upgrade now.