Someone Set Off All of Dallas’ Tornado Sirens Over the Weekend. But Was It a Hack?

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Media Outlet: Slate Future Tense

Josephine Wolff wrote for Slate's Future Tense about the security breach on 156 tornado sirens in Dallas last week:

Many computer security breaches are designed to stay under the radar, so they remain undetected and unmitigated for as long as possible. But every once and a while we see a breach that is meant to draw as much attention and wreak as much havoc as possible. If ever a security breach was designed to be difficult to ignore, it was the one that was exploited in Dallas last week to set off 156 emergency sirens—typically used to warn residents about tornadoes and other serious weather events—for more than an hour and a half on Friday night and into early Saturday morning, until the city finally unplugged and shut off the entire alert system.
It was an interesting security breach not just because it was loud but also because it targeted an emergency alert system. Those alert systems have become increasingly integrated into modern computing technology over the past few years. Where once upon people might have had to listen to the radio or watched TV news program to learn about school or other closings due to inclement weather, now every snow delay is simultaneously conveyed via multiple automated emails, text messages, and voicemails. Without your even asking or signing up, your phone may abruptly warn you about serious weather events in your area (sometimes even with a loud, rather sirenlike noise).


Josephine Wolff was a Class of 2016 & 2017 Cybersecurity Initiative Fellow at New America, where she will write a book about cybersecurity incidents from the last decade, tracing their economic and legal aftermath and their impact on the current state of technical, social, and political lines of defense.