As It Happens

Tiny Michigan radio station hacked with "ransomware" -- twice in two weeks

Jim Higgs runs WAKV AM 980, an oldies radio station, out of his home. And after hackers ruined his computer files because he wouldn't pay them $500, he spent hours rebuilding his music, station ID, and advertising files. Finally, he was back on the air. Then today, they struck again....
Jim Higgs runs WAKV AM 980, an oldies radio station, out of his home. And after hackers ruined his computer files because he wouldn't pay them $500, he spent hours rebuilding his music, station ID, and advertising files. Finally, he was back on the air. Then today, they struck again.

Mr. Higgs tells Carol Off, host of As It Happens, that the second attack happened about an hour before he was scheduled to speak to her.

"Ransomware," as the hacking software is called, is a worryingly increasing phenomenon. In Mr. Higgs's case, the hackers locked down his computer remotely, and then demanded $500 in bitcoins -- and untraceable online currency -- or the files would be deleted permanently.

Mr. Higgs, who operates his station from his house in Ostego, Michigan, refused to pay. "They ruined about 4,000 music files, we lost the business files... everything," he says.

It's taken him the last week to rebuild his station IDs, music and commercial files, some of which he had stored on old computers. Then, today, the same thing happened again.

"I've just been trying to get us back on the air," he says. After the first attack, he went to the police. "But the police have said they can't do anything about it, because it's done by people offshore."

He thinks he was chosen at random. Experts have said that these types of attacks have earned the hackers $3-million over the last few months.

His advice to protect yourself? "Back everything up. Off-site," he says. And as far as dealing with the latest attack, he tells Carol: "I'm going to have a stiff drink...then I'm going to call some computer people."

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