US 911 Emergency Service Could Have Its Own Emergency Due to Hacking

Posted on September 14, 2016 by .

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We all know the number and at one point in time, we have used the service. The 911 emergency service in America has its obvious benefits and could be life-saving in many cases. Though, recent fears have inched towards a reality in the realm of the 911 emergency system coming under attack from hackers.

Researchers from the Ben Gurion University in Israel have revealed a case where hacked smartphones may allow attackers to overwhelm a state’s 911 system with repeated and endless calls, which would eventually limit access from legitimate callers.

The common attack method known as distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks, has been successful for bringing down massive websites by attacking the web server with monumental amounts of web traffic. The same attack method is used on 911 emergency systems where the system is overloaded with calls that it starts to crash and deny any legitimate service calls.

Researchers have looked into systems in various locations around the United States and have found them to be vulnerable in ways that if hackers compromise thousands of smartphones with malicious software, they could be used to make enough 911 calls to block out half of legitimate callers.

You can think of a network of compromised and infected smartphones as being a botnet, only at the level of a smartphone, which is essentially a small computer. The findings made by researchers and the Ben Gurion University have been shared with the US Department of Homeland Security. According to the Washington Post, the US Department of Homeland Security hasn’t responded to any requests for comments on the matter and data shared with them on the vulnerabilities of 911 emergency systems. Though, the agency has previously warned of the dangers of a DDoS attack on emergency response systems around the US.

The solution, laid out briefly by the US Department of Homeland Security, is the revamp the 911 phone infrastructure completely by using managed IP networks, which are like using private Internet-like networks. In order to complete such goals, the 911 system would require a significant investment and state and local agencies that handle the emergency response systems will need to implement the changes and train all relevant staff.

Overall, revamping the 911 emergency system in the U.S. is a major undertaking that must take place if we wish to improve upon the security of such a necessary service. Currently, hackers and researchers are sending warning signals of an antiquated system that is vulnerable to attacks in the future if nothing is done to beef up their security.

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