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Hackers have taken down dozens of 911 centers. Why is it so hard to stop them?

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When news broke last week of a hacking attack on Baltimore’s 911 system, Chad Howard felt a rush of nightmarish memories.

Howard, the information technology manager for Henry County, Tennessee, faced a similar intrusion in June 2016, in one of the country’s first so-called ransomware attacks on a 911 call center. The hackers shut down the center’s computerized dispatch system and demanded more than $2,000 in bitcoin to turn it back on. Refusing payment, Howard’s staff tracked emergency calls with pencil and paper for three days as the system was rebuilt.

“It basically brought us to our knees,” Howard recalled.

Nearly two years later, the March 25 ransomware attack on Baltimore served as another reminder that America’s emergency-response networks remain dangerously vulnerable to criminals bent on crippling the country’s critical infrastructure ─ either for money, or something more nefarious.

There have been 184 cyberattacks on public safety agencies and local governments in the past 24 months, according to a compilation of publicly reported incidents by the cybersecurity firm SecuLore Solutions. That includes Atlanta, which fell victim to a ransomware attack a couple days before the one on Baltimore, scrambling the operations of many agencies, but not the 911 system.

 Robert Mohan installs new radio equipment at the 911 dispatch center at the Rensselaer County Public Safety Building in Troy, New York. Mike Groll / AP file

911 centers have been directly or indirectly attacked in 42 of the 184 cases on SecuLore’s list, the company says. Two dozen involved ransomware attacks, in which hackers use a virus to remotely seize control of a computer system and hold it hostage for payment.

Most of the other attacks involve “denial of service,” in which centers are immobilized by a flood of automated bogus calls. One of the first occurred in October 2016, when Meetkumar Desai, then 18, of Arizona, distributed a computer bug on Twitter that overwhelmed 911 centers in 12 states. The motivations for such attacks are often less about the money than doing damage — sometimes as a form of protest, as when the “hacktivist” group Anonymous took down Baltimore’s city website after the death of Freddie Gray while in police custody, experts say. Desai reportedly told authorities he meant his attack more as a prank.

 Meetkumar Desai, who pleaded guilty in an August 2016 cyber attack on Phoenix-area 911 emergency systems. Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office

“911 is the perfect [target] because it can’t afford to be down,” said Tim Lorello, SecuLore’s president and CEO.

This is how 911 works: When someone dials for help ─ typically from a mobile phone ─ the call gets routed from a cell tower to a 911 center, where a “telecommunicator” answers the phone and gathers basic information. The telecommunicator enters that information into a computer-aided dispatch system, where a dispatcher picks it up and coordinates a response from firefighters, police officers or ambulances.

This 911 system relies on redundancy, meaning that call centers that are taken out of service by a hacking attack can work around the disruption by shutting down the computer-aided dispatch system and sharing information person-to-person, or by sending calls to a nearby center. But depending on the type of attack and a 911 center’s resources, those disruptions can make it more difficult for people to reach someone in case of an emergency. A July 2017 investigation by Scripps News on the vulnerabilities of 911 systems noted the case of a 6-month-old Dallas boy who died after his babysitter’s 911 calls were delayed during an apparent denial-of-service attack.

J.J. Guy, chief technology officer at the cybersecurity firm Jask, said that the spread of ransomware attacks on public safety agencies and other key government operations shows the potential for cyberterrorists to target the country’s critical infrastructure.

Last month, the Department of Homeland Security outlined in a report how Russian hackers have gained access to American power plants. The hackers did not cause service interruptions, but the fact that they could gain access at all is troubling to security experts.

“To date, if you don’t have credit cards or lots of personal information, attackers had little motivation and thus you were mostly safe,” Guy said in an email. “This will change those dynamics. Manufacturing, logistics, etc — any field with an operations mindset that loses money when ‘the line is down’ will be targeted.”

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The attack on Baltimore was discovered March 25, after a morning breach of its computer-aided dispatch system, officials said. The city’s cybersecurity unit took the system down, forcing support staff to pass 911 calls to dispatchers using paper rather than electronically. Call-center operations returned to normal early the next day, officials said. Investigators later determined that the intrusion was an attempted ransomware attack, but “no ransom was demanded or paid,” a city spokesman James Bentley said. He declined to explain further, saying that “could compromise the investigation.”

Most ransomware cases end similarly, with governments refusing to pay hackers, choosing instead to switch to a more primitive version of 911 services while they rebuild their systems. Governments have caved at times, however, although officials decline to say much about those incidents, out of concern that it will encourage more attacks.

Another problem with the current 911 system is that it doesn’t accommodate the ways people communicate in the modern world ─ through texts, photos, videos, etc. That is why the 911 industry is pushing telecommunication companies and state and local governments to adopt what it calls Next Generation 911, which allows callers to send data through approved telecommunications carriers and internet service providers (while still taking calls from landlines).

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Netherlands: Thief jailed for stealing van Gogh and Frans Hals paintings worth millions of pounds from museums | World News

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A man has been convicted of stealing a painting by Vincent van Gogh worth several million pounds from a museum in the Netherlands.

The 59-year-old was also found guilty of snatching a Frans Hals piece from another museum in the country, again worth millions of pounds, and neither of the works have been recovered.

Described as an “incorrigible and calculating criminal”, he was sentenced to a maximum of eight years in prison.

The man, whose identity has been kept anonymous under Dutch privacy laws, was found guilty of taking Van Gogh’s “The Parsonage Garden at Nuenen in Spring 1884” from the Singer Laren museum near Amsterdam.

He later stole the 17th century Frans Hals’ “Two Laughing Boys” from the Museum Hofje van Mevrouw van Aerden in Leerdam, 60km (35 miles) south of the Dutch capital.

The Central Netherlands Court said the Hans painting was valued at €16m (£13.7m), but did not give a value for Van Gogh’s painting.

Both were stolen by a man who broke into the museums at night and fled on a scooter driven by an accomplice.

The Vincent van Gogh painting was stolen from the Singer Laren museum near Amsterdam. Pic AP
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The Vincent van Gogh painting was stolen from the Singer Laren museum near Amsterdam. Pic AP

The defendant, who has a previous conviction for a similar heist, denied any involvement.

“The court doesn’t believe this,” the court said in a statement. “His DNA was found at both crime scenes, and the man can’t explain how that is possible.”

The paintings were described as “part of the national cultural heritage, they are important for present and future generations”.

“That is why and given the criminal record of the suspect who is, according to the court, an incorrigible and calculating criminal, the court considers the maximum sentence to be appropriate,” the court added.

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La Palma volcano: What caused it to explode and how long could the eruption last? | World News

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A volcano that erupted on the Spanish island of La Palma in the Canary Islands is continuing to explode and spew out lava five days after it erupted.

Unstoppable lava flows have destroyed nearly 400 buildings on the western side of the volcanic island of 85,000 people and the authorities have warned of new dangers including toxic gases, volcanic ash and acid rain.

Where is the volcano in La Palma?

A map shows the location of the Cumbre Vieja eruption and the flow of lava
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A map shows the location of the Cumbre Vieja eruption and the flow of lava
LA PALMA Canary Islands  MAP
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A map of the volcanic activity on La Palma. Credit: Global Disaster Alert and Coordination System

The volcano erupted along the Cumbre Vieja volcanic ridge in La Palma, one of eight volcanic islands in Spain’s Canary Islands archipelago, which sit off the northwestern coast of Africa.

The Canary Islands are popular with European tourists and the nearby island of Tenerife has one of the world’s tallest volcanoes, Mount Teide.

La Palma island itself is made up of two main volcanic complexes: a large one to the north and a smaller one to the south, which erupted on Sunday. The island last saw an eruption in 1971.

How did scientists know the eruption was coming?

More on La Palma Volcano Eruption

Scientists had been monitoring a build-up of underground magma beneath La Palma for a week before the eruption and were able to warn of a possible eruption, allowing nearly 7,000 people to evacuate.

They had detected more than 20,000 earthquakes in an “earthquake swarm” which can indicate a coming eruption.

What caused the volcano to erupt?

Copernicus Sentinel-2 image shows the eruption of a volcano in the Cumbre Vieja national park, on the Canary Island of La Palma
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Copernicus Sentinel-2 image shows the eruption of the volcano in the Cumbre Vieja national park
Lava spews from the Cumbre Vieja volcano in La Palma, Spain
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Lava spews from the Cumbre Vieja volcano

Three days before the volcano erupted, the Canary Islands Volcanology Institute reported that 11 million cubic metres (388 million cubic feet) of molten rock had been pushed into the volcano.

Professor David Pyle, a volcanologist at the University of Oxford, told Sky News: “Magma is generated within Earth’s mantle and below La Palma that magma is probably being generated continuously at depths of 100km or so. Every now and then those magmas will collect and break through, pushing up into the shallow parts of the Earth’s crust.

“When the latest swarm of earthquakes started a week before the eruption began, scientists recognised they were happening at a shallower depth than they had seen in previous years.

“They were able to look at satellite images which showed deformation of the surface and they were very confident that from these they could recognise the movement of magma towards the surface.”

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Lava from the volcano is destroying and burying homes, leaving thousands devastated

A 4.2-magnitude earthquake was recorded before the eruption, which saw two fissures open up and bright red magma bubble up into the air.

How has the eruption developed?

Earthquakes have continued and a new fissure opened on Monday following a 3.8-magnitude quake. Scientists have warned that new lava vents and cracks could emerge, putting new areas at risk.

Lava covers more than 180 hectares on the island of La Palma and destroys 390 buildings
PIC:AP
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Lava erupts from the Cumbre Vieja volcanic ridge. Pic: AP

Prof Pyle said scientists will now be measuring the amount of gas escaping from the volcano, checking whether the composition of magma changes over time and measuring the quantity of material that is being expelled to see how quickly the volcano is erupting.

“With these they will be forming an expert judgement in terms of what the trajectory is looking like in terms of the eruption, whether it is waxing or waning,” he said.

“In this crisis they are deploying all the tools they can to try and work out what is changing during the eruption. And that will give them the clues in terms of whether or not to expect the activity to last for days, or weeks, or months.”

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Scientists say the volcanic eruption could continue until December

Officials in La Palma have recorded 1,130 tremors in the area over the past week as the volcano blasted molten lava into the air.

The explosions have propelled ash almost 15,000ft into the air, according to the Guardia Civil police force. Two rivers of lava have flowed slowly down the hillside, consuming houses, banana farms and infrastructure.

How long could the eruption last?

Residents look from a hill as the lava from a volcano eruption flows on the island of La Palma in the Canaries, Spain
PIC:AP
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Residents look on from a hill as lava from the volcano flows. Pic: AP

Scientists are unclear about how long the eruption could last, with estimates ranging between weeks and even months.

The previous eruption in 1971 lasted for just over three weeks. The last eruption in the Canary Islands happened underwater off the coast of El Hierro island in 2011 and lasted for five months.

Professor Mike Burton, a volcanologist at the University of Manchester, told Sky News that while scientists were able to predict the eruption, knowing how long it could last was “the tricky bit”.

Lava from a volcano eruption flows in El Paso, on the Canary Island of La Palma, Spain, September 23, 2021.
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Lava has surrounded houses in El Paso

“It’s great that we can see when something like this is coming, but once it has started it is quite hard to be clear about how it is going to evolve.

“I think the best thing we can do is watch and look for signs of waxing and waning, increasing and decreasing activity.

“The last eruption went on for about three months, but every eruption is different. This one appears to have started with a higher lava eruption rate than the 1971 eruption, so already it seems to be more powerfully supplied.

“That might mean it goes on much longer, but you have to be cautious about making any deterministic predictions. We really need to wait and see what nature does.”

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Elon Musk and Grimes split up after three years together but ‘remain on great terms’ | Ents & Arts News

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Elon Musk and Grimes have split up after three years together, according to reports.

Musk, who is the founder of SpaceX and Tesla, confirmed to Page Six that he and the Canadian singer are semi-separate but on good terms.

The 50-year-old added that they will continue to co-parent their one-year-old son, X Æ A-Xii Musk.

Elon Musk and his newborn. Pic: @elonmusk/Twitter
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Elon Musk and Grimes welcomed their first child in May 2020. Pic: @elonmusk/Twitter

“We are semi-separated but still love each other, see each other frequently and are on great terms,” Musk told Page Six.

“It’s mostly that my work at SpaceX and Tesla requires me to be primarily in Texas or travelling overseas, and her work is primarily in LA. She’s staying with me now, and Baby X is in the adjacent room.”

The pair started dated in May 2018 and welcomed their first son two years later.

They were last seen together at the Met Gala on 13 September, when Grimes, 33, walked on the red carpet alone and Musk joined her inside.

Grimes joined Musk at a Met Gala after-party, which he was hosting, and the duo were seen leaving New York together the next day.

Metropolitan Museum of Art Costume Institute Gala - Met Gala - In America: A Lexicon of Fashion - Arrivals - New York City, U.S. - September 13, 2021. Grimes. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni
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Grimes walked on the red carpet alone at the Met Gala on 13 September but was joined by Elon Musk inside

Musk was previously married to author Justine Wilson, with whom he has five sons – 17-year-old twins Griffin and Xavier, and triplets Damian, Saxon and Kai, aged 15.

He has also been married twice to Westworld actress Talulah Riley, and dated Amber Heard for a year.

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