How TV networks are getting through COVID

Every May, the five big television networks — ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox and The CW — host what can only be described as spectacles.

There are celebrities and red carpets and glamorous parties and presentations hosted by the networks’ affable late-night hosts held at iconic New York theaters such as Carnegie Hall and Rockefeller Center. But no part of these dog-and-pony shows are intended for television audiences. They are the “Upfronts”—annual presentations networks make to ad buyers and the media introducing them to their fall television schedules in a bid for dollars and attention.

Thanks to COVID-19, this year’s Upfronts looked considerably different than in years past. Most notably, the parties and red carpets and celebrity panels were canceled in favor of remote presentations and quieter virtual “town halls” with ad buyers.

Aside from how the presentations themselves were made, the content of the presentations was wildly different this year. In normal years, Upfronts are mostly trailers and clips of upcoming new series, and panels with members of a hot new cast.

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But COVID-19 shut the world down right in the middle of pilot season, the period in early spring when networks film pilot episodes of the TV series they are considering adding to their schedules. Virtually no pilots were able to be completed this year, so very few new series could be confidently added to the fall schedule. The networks had to admit that the bulk of their fall seasons would be the same old shows from last year.

Of course, even that was contingent on those same old series being able to return to production.

Fox had originally planned to launch two mid-season shows last spring, but paused those plans as lockdowns began and moved the series to its fall schedule. They might not have originally been intended to be fall shows, but they are now.

The network’s biggest gamble was on bringing back a hit from recent seasons, “The Masked Singer,” and deciding to go forward with its new reality singing competition “I Can See Your Voice.” Both series were among the first to restart production, using virtual audiences and social distancing.

The other network that chose to fully corona-proof its fall lineup was The CW. Back in May, The CW announced that its popular superhero shows and teen dramas would not be returning until January at the earliest.

The only staple CW series that will return this fall is the long-running “Supernatural,” which was scheduled to end its 15-season run in the spring, only to have production on the final episodes interrupted by lockdowns. The CW held back the final episodes and began airing them beginning October 8. The long-awaited series finale will now air on November 19, giving fans a little extra time with the Winchester boys.

As for the other big three networks, ABC, CBS and NBC promised advertisers a return to normalcy in the fall with their most popular series. It is

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Interior IG Team Used Evil Twins and $200 Tech to Hack Department Wi-Fi Networks

Hackers gained unauthorized access to the Interior Department’s internal systems by breaching agency Wi-Fi networks using $200 homemade hacking kits. Luckily, the attackers were white hat hackers from the Interior Office of the Inspector General.

Earlier this year, the Interior IG’s IT audit team conducted several penetration tests at bureau offices, using easily accessible hacking tools to demonstrate the fragility of the agency’s wireless networks.

“We found that the department did not deploy and operate a secure wireless network infrastructure,” the team wrote in an audit report released Wednesday. “Specifically, the department’s wireless network policy did not ensure bureaus kept inventories of their wireless networks, enforce strong user authentication measures, require periodic tests of network security, or require network monitoring to detect and repel well-known attacks.”

To expose just how vulnerable the agency’s networks are, the pentesting work was done entirely by the IG’s in-house IT audit team, which constructed portable test units that fit inside backpacks and purses and could be operated using a smartphone. Auditors then set up in public areas near Interior offices—such as park benches—or got limited access to buildings and set to work infiltrating the agency’s networks.

Each kit cost less than $200 and used widely available open source software.

“These attacks—which went undetected by security guards and IT security staff as we explored department facilities—were highly successful,” the team wrote, noting they were able to intercept and decrypt network traffic at multiple offices.

The intrusion tests showed Interior’s poor Wi-Fi security, as well as other deeper problems with resilience.

At two locations, the team was able to go “far beyond the wireless network at issue” and again access to the department’s internal networks. The IG hackers were even able to steal the login credentials of an IT employee, gaining access to the internal help desk system and visibility into all of that employee’s open tickets.

“We also found that several bureaus and offices did not implement measures to limit the potential adverse effect of breaching a wireless network,” the report reads. “Because the bureaus did not have such protective measures in place, such as network segmentation, we were able to identify assets containing sensitive data or supporting mission-critical operations.”

The report outlines two types of attacks testers used to gain access to Interior networks: one in which the attackers deciphered the pre-shared key—like the single ID and password used to log on to a home network—and another in which they stole unique credentials using “evil twins” to access a more secure network.

In the former scenario, the team used the homemade hacking kits to eavesdrop on wireless network traffic, waiting for someone to log on or otherwise transmit encoded credentials. Depending on the quality of the password, the attacker might be able to break the encryption there on the spot. If it’s too complex, the “credentials can be transmitted to higher performance remote systems where additional efforts could be dedicated to breaking the encoding,” the report states.

“There is no control that can prevent

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White House ordered to make live sign language interpretation during coronavirus briefing available to TV networks

A federal judge on Wednesday ordered the White House to include a sign-language interpreter in its video feed of coronavirus briefings beginning October 1.

a woman looking at the camera: White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany speaks during a briefing in the Brady Briefing Room of the White House in Washington, DC on September 16, 2020.

© Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images
White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany speaks during a briefing in the Brady Briefing Room of the White House in Washington, DC on September 16, 2020.

The order means live video feeds available to TV networks will also now include American Sign Language interpretation.

“Defendants shall include a qualified ASL interpreter in the … feed for all White House coronavirus briefings,” DC District Court Judge James Boasberg wrote, either by putting an interpreter physically near whomever is speaking or by including within the frame a video of an interpreter located elsewhere.

If the latter, the White House will make footage of the remote interpreter available in a way that “allows the networks to include the qualified ASL interpreter in their live broadcasts,” Boasberg added.

The news follows a lawsuit filed by the National Association of the Deaf and five deaf Americans last month attempting to force President Donald Trump and other top officials to have American Sign Language interpreters at Covid-19 briefings. Boasberg had previously indicated earlier this month that the White House might have to do so.

NAD CEO Howard Rosenblum told CNN that Wednesday’s order “sets a great precedent to achieve this goal of full accessibility.”

“Sign language and accurate captioning are both essential and crucial to ensuring all deaf and hard of hearing people are well informed and are able to make better decisions on how to stay safe from the pandemic,” he said in a statement.

In their lawsuit filed last month, the plaintiffs alleged that the lack of live sign language interpretation at White House coronavirus briefings was against the law.

“By contrast (to written captions), an interpreter is able to convey tone and context of a message through facial expressions, sign choice, and demeanor,” the lawsuit said. “Further, the provision of live closed captioning frequently contains errors and omissions that make it difficult or impossible for (deaf and hard of hearing) individuals to understand the information being provided in the briefings, particularly if they are not fluent in English.”

Plaintiffs pointed out that governors in all 50 states have provided in-frame ASL interpretation during their public briefings on coronavirus.

“President Trump, however, does not,” the lawsuit said. “He now stands alone in holding televised briefings regarding the Covid-19 pandemic without ever having provided any ASL interpretation.”

According to court documents, since March, Trump and the coronavirus task force have not been seen with an ASL interpreter while addressing the American people during the pandemic, though the Trump administration has used interpreters in past briefings, including for hurricanes.

The federal government’s National Council on Disability and some members of Congress had already written to the White House requesting it add ASL interpreters. The US Census Bureau estimates that about 11.5 million Americans have some degree of hearing loss.

This story has been updated with additional information

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Interior Department watchdog ‘highly successful’ at hacking agency’s networks

The Department of the Interior’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) said Wednesday that it has been “highly successful” at accessing the agency’s networks as part of a security audit due to cybersecurity shortcomings. 

As part of a security audit, OIG employees conducted penetration testing on the Interior Department’s networks, and were successfully able to break into networks and access sensitive information, including intercepting and decrypting network traffic, accessing internal networks at two Interior Department bureaus, and stealing the credentials of an agency IT employee. 

The OIG accessed the networks through simulating previous attacks by malicious hackers to target federal agencies, including using portable testing units concealed in backpacks and operated by smartphones to test the networks while the OIG employees were positioned in publicly accessible areas of Interior Department buildings.

The OIG noted that the penetration testing went “undetected” by both IT personnel and security guards. 

“We used the same tools, techniques, and practices that malicious actors use to eavesdrop on communications and gain unauthorized access,” the OIG wrote in a report detailing the security audit results. “Many of the attacks we conducted were previously used by Russian intelligence agents around the world.”

Based on findings from the audit, the OIG accused the agency’s Office of the Chief Information Officer of failing to “establish and enforce wireless security practices,” and concluded that the Interior Department did not carry out regular tests of its network security, maintain inventories of its wireless networks, and published inadequate security guidance. 

“Without operating secure wireless networks that include boundary controls between networks and active monitoring, the Department is vulnerable to the breach of a high-value IT asset, which could cripple Department operations and result in the loss of highly sensitive data,” the OIG wrote.

In order to prevent successful cyberattacks, the OIG recommended the Interior Department take over a dozen steps to increase security, and noted in the audit that 13 of the recommendations had already been resolved by the agency. 

Interior Department Chief Information Officer William Vajda responded to each of the OIG’s recommendations in a letter attached to the report, writing that his office “appreciated working” with the OIG. 

“I am pleased to report that the Department not only concurs with all of the Office of the Inspector General’s recommendations, but also have substantially complied with all of them, with just a few remaining tasks to be accomplished with respect to a few of the recommendations,” Vajda wrote to Interior Department Inspector General Mark Lee Greenblatt. 

The OIG noted in the report that despite these strides forward, the agency can still do more to shore up cybersecurity.

“Until the Department improves its cyber risk management practices, its computer networks and high-value IT assets will be at risk of compromise, the results of which could have serious or severe adverse effects on Department operations, assets, or individuals,” the OIG wrote. “The Department has begun taking significant steps to mitigate these weaknesses, but more remains to be done.”

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