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Top Story: How 911 emergency services can be brought down by hacked smartphones

Cyberattacks should have everyone worried these days. Threats seem to be everywhere. Even the terrorist group ISIS has begun attacking people digitally.

Millions of cyberattacks are happening every day around the globe. Cybercriminals can disable major online services by overwhelming servers with more traffic than they can handle with a Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attack.

This means, 911 emergency services in the U.S. are at risk. Researchers have found that a relatively small botnet powered by just 6,000 smartphones can disrupt 911 emergency services. It's known as a telephony denial-of-service (TDoS) attack.

A botnet is a group of gadgets that hackers have taken over without the owners' knowledge. The hackers seize control of unwitting gadgets with a virus, and then use the network of infected computers to perform large-scale hacks or scams.

When people call 911, their service provider connects them to the enhanced 911 (E911) network. The call is then routed to the closest call center responsible for dispatching to emergency services. Cybercriminals could disrupt 911 services with a TDoS attack.

The FCC requires wireless carriers to forward emergency calls to emergency call centers without identifying callers or determining their subscriber status. This makes it easier for cybercriminals to carry out a TDoS attack without being caught.

This theoretical attack studied by researchers involved a botnet of Android phones that had been infected with malware. It's not difficult for hackers to infect millions of phones with malware, and this type of TDoS attack would only take a few thousand.

After the phone is infected with malware, the cyberattackers can instruct its command and control (C&C) servers to call 911 over and over from the infected phones. The attackers can even put audio content into the 911 calls so the operator can't immediately recognize it's automated. If enough calls are sent to 911 at the same time, it would jam up the system and real emergency calls would have trouble getting through.



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