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The Emergency Siren Hack in Dallas: Get Ready for More

Jeff Hall

Posted on April 20, 2017 17:45

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Many of our communications systems were built in a more innocent age, before we considered the possibility of hackers, terrorists and other bad guys.

I know a very smart guy in San Francisco, Balint Seeber. 

He let me fly his drone once.  That was probably the least-smart thing he’s ever done.

But then he figured out how to fix some errors on this website,   Suddenly he seemed very smart again.

Our programmers had struggled with a particular issue for weeks; Balint figured out what the problem was in minutes. 

He put together an email with a bunch of error messages that I forwarded to our programmers.  It all looked like gibberish to me, but upon receipt, the programmers said, “Ah, NOW we get it.”

We’re just warming up here.  Balint’s specialty is anything having to do with radio waves.

In a moment, we’ll discuss the recent incident during which all the emergency sirens in Dallas went off in the middle of the night – for 90 minutes.  Hackers are suspected.

Balint has some ideas on what happened in Dallas – and how authorities everywhere can protect against attacks like this in the future.

But first a little background on Balint, who learned about ham radios from his grandfather, in Australia. 

Some years ago, Balint helped bring a lost satellite back to life.

The space vehicle had been adrift for years, all contact had been lost.   Then someone saw something odd in a telescope.  What was this unknown vessel?

Balint and some friends took interest and started sending radio signals in the direction of the floating space junk and the vessel came back to life.  The ship’s radios started sending signals back, in response.

Balint and his team wanted to steer the spaceship back into its proper orbit.  Alas, Balint and his team eventually lost contact with the satellite – this was the fish that got away.

In recent months Balint, who is a cyber-security expert working for Bastille Networks in San Francisco, has been studying “mouse-jacking.” 

If you use a wireless mouse, it’s possible your data is readily available to hackers.  The small gap between laptop and mouse is all that’s needed for a clever hacker to peer inside. 

For example, if a bank’s employees use wireless mice, a bad guy with a briefcase with the right equipment inside could walk into the lobby of a bank, hang out for a while and then leave, undetected, with a lot of financial data that the hacker could then put to bad use.

Yikes!  Who would ever think such a vulnerability even exists?

The bad guys, that’s who.

Bastille Networks helps companies and governments detect and protect against data vulnerabilities.  Big organizations generally don’t know they’ve been hacked till after the fact; Bastille goes in there, in a prophylactic way, and seeks out the vulnerabilities in advance, giving big organizations a chance to make repairs before they’re needed.

If you are interested in cyber-security issues, particularly if they might involve radio frequencies, you might want to want watch this video:

In this video, Balint talks about what he thinks might have happened in Dallas.  The topic is very technical and might put you to sleep if you have no interest in any of this.

But if even one viewer out there can take this information and prevent the next radio wave hack, then THE LATEST will have done some good.

Though the Dallas story didn’t generate that much buzz, Balint says authorities need to take heed, as this could be the beginning of similar hacks to come.

Emergency responder communications systems, gas, water and electricity utilities (vulnerable via their “smart” readers), traffic lights, street lights – all use radio waves.

Same with building management systems (HVAC, windows, entry and exit systems).

The smart hacker with very little in the way of equipment can wreak havoc.  

The bad guys are always thinking up what new nasty thing they could do.  Balint Seeber and his colleagues at Bastille do their best to stay a step or two ahead of the wolves. 

 As is often said in anti-terror circles, “We have to be right 100 percent of the time.  They only need to be right once.” 

If you know of anyone involved in radio wave security, please pass this along.  You might sleep better at night for a lot of reasons if you do. 

Jeff Hall

Posted on April 20, 2017 17:45


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