Critical to the success of the 911 emergency phone system, which has saved countless lives since it was first implemented in 1968, is its ability to quickly route calls to emergency responders closest to a caller.
But a group of researchers say they’ve found a way to effectively disable the 911 emergency system across an entire state for an extended period of time by simply launching what’s known as a TDoS attack, or telephony denial-of-service attack, against 911 call centers. The tactic involves infecting mobile phones to cause them to automatically make bogus 911 calls — without their owners' knowledge — thereby clogging call-center queues and preventing legitimate callers from reaching operators.
The researchers say it would take just 6,000 infected smartphones in a geographical area — something hackers could easily accomplish — to launch an attack sufficient to disrupt the 911 system throughout the entire state of North Carolina, and just 200,000 infected phones distributed across the U.S. to significantly disrupt 911 services around the nation.
“Under these circumstances, an attacker can cause 33 percent of the nation's legitimate callers to give up in reaching 911,” the researchers at Ben Gurion University in Israel wrote in a paper they recently passed to the Department of Homeland Security and are releasing publicly.
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