Negatives of automated emergency-calling apps highlighted in California
A 911 dispatch center in Northern California received a total of 566 phantom calls — a call about every 20 seconds in a span of five hours — last month from an unsubscribed phone number.
According to news reports, dispatchers were able to track the calls to a cell tower operated by Verizon, which identified the electronic serial number and blocked the calls. 911 officials further discovered that the calls were coming from an embedded car emergency system. Continental Automotive Group made the device, which automatically calls 911 following a collision. Continental is working with 911 folks to track down the problem.
But as McAfee’s Jan Volzke pointed out in a blog post, events like these could very well become common place in this new era of embedded apps. He cites the infamous accident in Japan, where a mobile-phone worm attacked Japan’s emergency dialing system, tying it up because cell phones everywhere were automatically dialing the emergency 110 number.
Hackers are attacking smartphones now in greater numbers. And Volzke says any app developer can embed a code that can make a phone dial a number automatically on most mobile device platforms. There are now thousands of new apps released on all sorts of smartphone platforms every day.
There is no vetting process of apps when it comes to public or private infrastructure. Apps could very well become a national threat to our 911 system. I’m also thinking of the next generation of 911 infrastructure that is supposed to be able to receive more than just phone calls — text messages and video feeds. What happens when a rogue text message spams the system? What if the same video feed is sent repeatedly?
Modern technology is becoming a great tool for first responders, but it always has its downside. App stores, carriers and other entities involved in the mobile apps process need to adopt more stringent security standards. I hope it doesn’t come after several mishaps like we saw in Northern California.
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