Dallas warning system was hacked!

The sirens went off at around 11:45pm on Friday evening. Then again and again and again.

Around the Dallas area, there is a network of severe weather warning sirens which are activated to warn the residents to seek immediate cover from the incoming Tornado or other baseball-size hail.  Of course, when we heard the sirens we assumed that a tornado was about to hit, however, I looked outside and it was a clear and beautiful night. The usual weather channel and twitter accounts reported nothing and the NBC5 DFW News and Weather app was silent too.

Yet for the next 3 hours, the sirens were constantly activated reminiscent of an air-raid warning during wartime warning civilians to find to a bomb shelter…

Eventually, the sirens were silent. It took the fire department over 4 hours to manually switch them off and then calm returned to the city. The City of Dallas Emergency Management had tweeted asking people not to call 911 as clearly people were concerned and wanted to know why the sirens were being activated.

Dallas siren system hacked

The warning system was hacked

Dallas siren system hackedThe infrastructure was hacked.

Officials have confirmed that “We can state at this time that the City’s siren system was hacked Friday night. For security reasons, we cannot discuss the details of how this was done, but we do believe that the hack came from the Dallas area. We have notified the FCC (Federal Communications Commission) for assistance in identifying the source of this hack. We are putting in safeguards to ensure this type of hack does not happen again.”

Country’s infrastructure is under attack – NEW vs. OLD

Today most new buildings, offices, public spaces are built with technology in mind with power outlets to charge devices, WiFi zones, security cameras, and automation. Cities around the world deploy “Smart City” technologies that automatically controls street lights, provides pollution and weather data from sensors around the city, smarter management of traffic flow and security cameras with features such as facial recognition to help police find wanted criminals.  All these systems are designed with hacker protection in mind.

In Dallas,  AT&T Smart Cities and the Dallas Innovation Alliance are working to bring smart city technology which is focused on “Citizen Engagement and the Environment”.

AT&T is providing secure, reliable connectivity for all the solutions featured which include:

  • Intelligent LED Lighting: Using LED street lights, the city can reduce carbon emissions.
  • Interactive Digital WayPoint: signage system that helps residents and visitors find their way around the city—for events, shopping, and points of interest.
  • Environmental Sensors: sensors that measures four different types of pollutants as well as temperature, humidity, atmospheric pressure and particulates (allergen levels).

However, the “old” infrastructure is problematic as the technology in those systems was never designed to be protected from hackers who could access the systems from their laptops in a coffee shop. Hackers know this and they are aiming their hacking skills at power plants, dams, water treatment facilities and others facilities.

According to federal data in 2015,  300 attacks against infrastructure were reported and these were against a variety of targets including healthcare and manufacturing fields. State sponsored hackers are being deployed to probe, access and disrupt country’s infrastructure such as the case where the US indicted 7 Iranians for cyber attacks against US banks and attempted to take over a small dam in a suburb of New York.

So in summary:

I would like to give credit to the Dallas Emergency Management who used social media to keep the public updated with Tweets, Facebook and even a Facebook Live press conference. The department will be looking at deploying new services to be able to mass communicate with the public in case of a real emergency.

Facebook Live reporting

Authorities are tracing the culprit of the siren hack, and the sirens are getting their security systems updated, this is yet another wake-up call that in the list of priorities that a city has, protecting infrastructure needs to move up that list.

This time it was a bit of noise irritation, let’s hope there isn’t a next time with something more serious. But we know that hope isn’t going to stop these from coming. Continuously.

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