Late Friday night, Dallas warning system was hacked, according to city officials, which caused major disturbance in the city when all 156 of its emergency sirens sounded during the early hours of Saturday morning.
A local breach:
Officials said that the alarms went off around 11:40 p.m. Friday and lasted until 1:20 a.m. Saturday. They caused a sense of fear and confusion, jolting residents awake and causing 911 to be flooded with thousands of calls.
Spokeswoman for the city, Sana Syed said that the sirens are meant to alert the public to severe weather or other emergencies. However, they were interpreted by the public as a warning sign of a “bomb or something, a missile.”
She said, noting the recent airstrikes in Syria: “I can understand the concern”
People took on to social media to complain. One user wrote: “Talk about creepy.”
According to officials, the breach had originated locally, but they refused to give full details about its nature, due to security reasons.
Syed said: “We do believe it came from the Dallas area because of the proximity to our signal you need to have in order to pull it off.”
Upgrade the technology infrastructure:
The breach was “an attack on our emergency notification system,” according to Mayor Mike Rawlings. He said that it was evidence to the need to upgrade and safeguard the city’s technology infrastructure.
He wrote on his Facebook page: “We will work to identify and prosecute those responsible.”
At a news conference, the director of the city’s Office of Emergency Management, Rocky Vaz, told reporters that the alarms blasted for 90-second durations about 15 times.
At first, emergency workers and technicians had figure out if the sirens had been activated because of an actual emergency, according to Vaz. However, turning off the sirens wasn’t easy and led to shutting down the entire system.
Syed said: “Every time we thought we had turned it off, the sirens would sound again, because whoever was hacking us was continuously hacking us.”
On Saturday afternoon, the system was still down, officials hoped they can have it working again by the end of the weekend. Officials said that they have identified the origin of the breach after ruling out that the alarms had come from remote access or from their control system.
Vaz said: “Talking to all the experts in the siren industry, in the field. This is a very rare event.”
Vaz added that city officials have asked the Federal Communications Commission for help, as well as taking steps to prevent hackers from setting off the entire system again, but they haven’t communicated with federal law enforcement authorities yet.
Emergency systems issues:
This is not the only issue the city has faced with its emergency systems. According to The Dallas Morning News, the city’s Its 911 system had a problem with one phone carrier causing wait times as long as 26 minutes.
Ms. Syed said that in the hours around the attack on Friday night, a minimum of 4,400 calls came into the area’s 911 system locally, which is double the amount normal overnight. However, she added that the longest wait time was about six minutes.
For years, security officials have advised about the risks that hacking attacks can cause to infrastructure. There has been a rise in the number of attacks on critical infrastructure; according to federal data, they went from just under 200 in 2012 to nearly 300 in 2015.
Hackers with links to the Iranian military attempted to control a small dam in upstate New York in 2013.