Officials in Dallas, USA have reported that the city’s emergency warning system was hacked late on Friday night, meaning all 156 of its emergency sirens sounded into the early hours of Saturday morning.
Designed to warn Dallas’ 1.3 million residents of severe storms or tornados, the hacked emergency sirens blared for over 90 minutes, annoying, amusing and scaring many.
Sana Syed, a spokeswoman for the city, told the New York Times that the sound of the sirens was interpreted by some as a warning sign of a “bomb or something, a missile.”
Silencing the alarms proved tricky. Rocky Vaz, the Director of the city’s Office of Emergency Management, reported that emergency workers and technicians had to first figure out whether an actual emergency had caused the sirens to activate – and then in order to regain control, the entire system needed to be shut down.
Safeguarding critical technology infrastructure
In a Facebook post following the attack, Mayor Mike Rawlings labelled the breach “an attack on our emergency notification system” and said it underscored a need to upgrade and safeguard the city’s critical technology infrastructure.
“We will work to identify and prosecute those responsible,” he added.
The criticality of the hack was highlighted by how it caused panic amongst residents and affected other emergency services. Thousands of worried people flooded the Dallas 911 system officials said, leaving people with real emergencies waiting on the line for long minutes.
Citing security reasons, city officials declined to give full details about the nature of the breach but they said they believed it had originated locally.
“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,” Ms. Syed said.
Dallas has reached out to the Federal Communications Commission for help and is taking precautionary measures to prevent hackers from setting off the emergency system again.
Edited from sources by Cecilia Rehn.