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National Weather Service Facility's Intercom, Phone Lines Randomly Overtaken by Message in Chinese

National Weather Service Director Louis Uccellini speaks at a news conference at the NOAA Center for Weather and Climate Prediction in January 2016.
National Weather Service Director Louis Uccellini speaks at a news conference at the NOAA Center for Weather and Climate Prediction in January 2016.
Photo: Alex Wong (Getty Images)

Employees at a National Weather Service center in Maryland were randomly interrupted by a “message in Chinese” broadcast over the facility’s little-used intercom system on Wednesday, morningthe Washington Post reported. Bizarrely, it also reached “employees by phone” in the same complex.


Officials with the agency seem to have no idea how the message was broadcast across the entire National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Center for Weather and Climate Prediction, with both the intercom message and the phone one coming separately and lasting about 45 seconds. The actual content of the message was fortunately not all that ominous, the Post wrote, with one anonymous employee saying it roughly translated to “You have a package from Amazon at the Chinese Embassy, press 1 for more details.”

The Post wrote that though officials have no idea what happened, they are reassuring staff that there is no security risk as the phone system is not connected to any “Government IT controlled system”:

“We are aware of the Chinese message that is propagating through the phone system and was [broadcast] over the building PA,” read an email from Doug Fenderson, the branch chief for infrastructure and Web services at the center, sent at 12:50 p.m. “We are engaging the Vendor AT&T to alert them of the incident and get root cause. The phone [system] is not tied to any of the Government IT controlled systems in the building. Please do not be alarmed.”


There’s no indication that this was necessarily anything nefarious, like foreign hackers. Since people are generally not alerted by phone to pick up Amazon packages at embassies, it instead seems like it is probably tied to a wave of phone scams targeting Chinese expats or immigrants in the U.S. and abroad. In April, the Chinese embassy issued a warning about the scams, which generally pose as government officials advising recipients to retrieve packages from embassies or threatening them with criminal prosecution before demanding they divulge sensitive financial information like banking or credit card credentials. The Federal Trade Commission also issued its own warnings that month, with the New York Police Department warning the scam had resulted in roughly $2.5 million in known losses to victims in NYC from December 2017 to April 2018.

In other words, Occam’s Razor is that somehow the call was spam somehow routed over a building-wide comms system. The Post noted that two employees said they could only recall the intercom being used for shelter-in-place or fire drills, so perhaps someone with little familiarity with the system accidentally redirected the call to an administrative phone line, or there’s a long-forgotten crossed wire which allows anyone to dial it directly.

If that’s the case, here’s some advice for staff in the building, per the FTC:

Regardless of who you are or who says they’re calling, never send money to anyone who calls and asks you to send it. Never give your Social Security number, your bank or credit card number, or other sensitive information to anyone who calls and asks for it. Same thing if they email or message you through a social media platform such as WeChat: just don’t respond. That’s a scam. And neither the real Chinese Consulates, nor the Chinese Embassy, will ever call you to ask for money.


But who knows? Maybe the National Weather Service really does need to pick up a package. Or a dead drop for the deep state Illuminati agents secretly controlling the weather.

[Washington Post]


"... An upperclassman who had been researching terrorist groups online." - Washington Post

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Zack Danger

[...]or there’s a long-forgotten crossed wire which allows anyone to dial it directly.

My money is on this. So many of these phone systems are set up with the Intercom/Paging accessed as a specific extension... and often that extension is able to be dialed by someone calling in.

Hell, even back in the 90s I remember a tutorial on how to access overhead paging systems from the outside, Kmart in particular. From the payphone in their store you could ostensibly take over their whole paging system until the manager figured out how to shut down the hardware in the backroom.