Late Friday night, several people living in Dallas got a rude awakening. All 156 of their tornado sirens went off at once. The sirens themselves aren’t a strange thing for people in Texas to hear — they’re no strangers to storms that frequently spawn tornadoes and other harsh weather.
This time, the sirens stayed on for over an hour and a half before officials were finally able to shut them down. The incident is believed to have been caused by a local hacker or hackers, who were able to infiltrate the system and set it off repeatedly.
For obvious reasons, officials won’t release any information about how the breach occurred. Though they claim to know how it was accomplished and they’re taking measures to prevent it from happening again. That hasn’t stopped the speculations and jokes from running rampant about how hackers pulled off gaming the Dallas emergency sirens. From ancient operating systems to unchanged passwords, and even unbranded, unpatched IoT (internet of things) gadgets.
Phreaks hack Dallas emergency sirens, showcase weak technical infrastructure
There’s even the rumor that the hackers used radio frequencies instead of computer based hacking. Here enters the 90’s style of hacking! It was a common practice of phone hackers or ‘phreakers’ to use tones and frequencies to place free long distance calls and such. That practice has largely fallen out of use with all of our modern technology. But it’s still a viable technique, and with the right equipment, training, and persistence anything is possible.
Ultimately, in the end it doesn’t matter HOW it happened. The fact that it happened at all is the scary part. How many more of our security systems are vulnerable? How many more weaknesses are there in our technical infrastructure that people are just looking for ways to exploit? What kind of damage can determined hackers do to us? Sure, this incident seems like a harmless prank, but it’s still a prank that someone shouldn’t have been able to pull.
Security experts are quick to chide our government for not focusing efforts on a neglected cyberinfrastructure. Some cite the billions being afforded to build a southern border wall. While immigration is a valid issue, hackers aren’t stopped by physical walls. And the damage they can do is very real and much worse in scale.