Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Emergency call

Suddenly you are in an extreme situation. Your hands are shaking, your heart beats faster and you are sweating. You are scared and need help. You pick up the phone and dial the emergency number (911 in this story), but it’s busy. Then you panic. The only chance to save your life is if you have professional help, but they can’t hear you. There is someone blocking your communication. Hackers. 

In a recent research conducted by Ben Gurion University in Israel, they concluded that the 911 emergency services could suffer an attack by cybercriminals. By using a network of hacked phones, hackers could make the whole US emergency system collapse, causing dropped calls, or leaving out all the people who may need help.
The results of this investigation have been published in several websites like Cnet, or Sc Magazine and newspapers such as The Washington Post. According to researchers Yuval Elovici, Yisroel Mirsky and Mordechai Guri, the possibility of the attack is “a significant threat to the 911 telephone service”. To get to this conclusion, these experts took the example of North Carolina and created a similar model used by the 911. This system in the US works on both local and state levels. If hackers could get 6,000 smartphones, through malware, they could make enough phone calls to 911 to make the system collapse and block 50% of the incoming calls in that state.

Although some believe it is highly unlikely that an attack of this magnitude can happen from such a big distance, these researchers found it possible. They are based on the large amount of malicious software that already exists in mobile phones. They also warned that frequent calls from a hacked phone can’t be blocked by the current system.

According to The Washington Post, these investigators submitted their study to the Security Department in the United States, although the American authorities remain silent and don’t want to make any comments on the subject.

Trey Forgety, director of government affairs for the National Emergency Number Association, a non-profit organization focused on technology and policy response to this type of calls, says that this threat made public by Ben Gurion University is not the only one. “We have been aware of these threats for some years now”. According to Forgety, the solution is to change 911 analog phones infrastructure completely, but the government would have to make a huge investment. 

Rebekah Brown, threat intelligence lead at Rapid7, admits there are some vulnerabilities in the system that can be improved, but that’s not enough reason to believe this threat is going to be imminent. It is true that a hacker could do it, but it would take much time and effort. Emergency calls caused by a natural disaster could have the same impact in the system, Brown explained to Sc Magazine. 

Image Source: Freeimages


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