U.S. Press Freedom Tracker

Rash of cyberattacks in 2019, multiple news organizations hit

Incident Details

January 1, 2019

At least six radio and broadcast companies were targeted by cyberattacks that disrupted their daily operations in 2019. Some reported losses of more than $1 million in revenue; others said their archives and files were destroyed. There is no indication the attacks were related.

  • Urban One, a media conglomerate in Silver Spring, Maryland, reported during a first-quarter earnings call in 2019 that it lost $1 million in revenue after a February 2019 ransomware attack impacted its IT systems and databases. According to Radio Insider, the attack destroyed the company's internal computing system and prevented local stations from running commercials.

  • Townsquare Media, a radio network and media company based in Purchase, New York, was targeted by a cryptolocker encryption malware attack in April 2019. According to Radio Insight, the incident forced stations in Boise, Cedar Rapids, Portsmouth and Shreveport to “scramble for programming” on April 1. Shreveport’s 101.7 / 710 KEEL reported that its imaging and commercial triggers were inoperable. Morning news anchors and talk shows were able to continue broadcasting, but commercials and bumper music could not be played.

  • On April 19, the Weather Channel’s Atlanta headquarters were targeted by a cyberattack, forcing the station's live morning broadcast off-air for 90 minutes. In a tweeted statement, the channel confirmed it was the victim of a “malicious software attack on the network” and that federal law enforcement was investigating.

  • Tampa-based radio station WMNF 88.5-FM said it stepped up cybersecurity after a June 2019 ransomware attack destroyed media files and forced the station off-air. According to the Tampa Bay Times, the radio station did not pay the ransom. Instead, it reported the attack to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, who worked to restore as many files as possible. Hackers failed to access any sensitive financial information, the Times reported, but the station permanently lost several archived and AudioVault items.

  • A 6-station cluster of AM and FM radio stations owned by Max Media in Illinois was targeted by a ransomware attack that rendered nearly all of the stations’ files useless in July 2019. According to the Radio Business and Television Report, Max Media station leadership refused to pay the ransom. Instead, they opted to “replace almost everything from the ground up.”

  • Entercom was targeted by three separate cyberattacks in 2019, costing the radio network millions in financial losses, according to Radio Insight. A September 2019 incident impacted the radio network’s Radio.com stations, forcing them offline for two hours. Just three months later, in December 2019, another cyberattack forced the news organization to disable all back office systems, including email. In a 2020 notice to the California Attorney General’s office, Entercom said it became aware of an August 24 cyberattack while investigating the September incident. In its notice of data breach to the attorney general, Entercom stated it was upgrading security protections by implementing staff training, rotation of password and other best practices.

The U.S. Press Freedom Tracker catalogues press freedom violations in the United States. Email tips to [email protected].