Why The Dallas Siren Hack Should Alarm Every City


APRIL 2017

By: Delia J. Smith

As you probably know, last week someone hacked the Dallas emergency weather alarm system. All of the city’s 156 sirens wailed for 95 minutes until the system was shut down. The incident spawned hundreds of tweets and memes poking fun at the situation.

However, most of Dallas’ 1.3 million residents were not amused.

Since the alarms went off shortly before midnight, citizens were literally in the dark about what was going on. Some thought a tornado was about to hit the area, something that had happened only days earlier. Others, learning just hours earlier that the U.S. had bombed Syria, wondered if the U.S. was now under attack.

From 11:30 p.m. Friday to 3 a.m. Saturday, 911 operators were deluged with 4,400 calls – nearly twice the normal volume. In one 15-minute period shortly after the first siren blast, a staggering 800 calls were recorded. There is no way to determine how many lives may have been lost due to legitimate emergency calls failing to get through.

This incident should be a wakeup call to every U.S. city. While the Dallas hack involved radio signals, not Internet connections, it still illustrates a critical point. As our cities become smarter thanks to the Internet of Things (IoT), they also become more vulnerable.

The IoT enables streetlights to adapt to weather conditions, traffic lights to adjust their patterns to traffic, and video cameras to view and record virtually every inch of a city. Yet IoT devices incorporate sensors and microcontrollers that sorely lack effective encryption and security protocols.

And it’s not just the fault of IoT devices; the networks that connect them – 4G LTE, GSM, WiFi Bluetooth, etc. – are vulnerable, too. Data can be snatched by attackers and used to invade connected devices. Infrequently updated codes can make telecommunication switches easy prey.

Infrastructure attacks can garner immediate and often fatal results. They can create a ripple effect that overloads other infrastructures. They can demoralize a citizenry and weaken a nation. It’s no surprise more and more hostile nations and terrorist groups are creating cyberattack units that target critical infrastructure and industrial secrets.

Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings is looking at the siren hack as “another serious example of the need for us to upgrade and better safeguard our city’s technology infrastructure.” We hope other cities heed that warning.

Dispersive’s solutions can help any city or state – even our nation – protect its services and critical infrastructure. For more information on how we or one of our carrier partners can benefit you, email us at info@dispersivegroup.com or call us at (844) 403-5852.

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