The villagers of two small towns in Illinois were awoken in fear by the sound of sirens, as the tornado alert system fell in the hands of unidentified hackers. For more than half an hour, the sirens played alerts of natural disaster and military attack until they were taken offline.
According to a report published by Chicago Tribune, the tornado alert system was switched on at around 9 p.m. for three minutes. An hour later, a second alert was issued, this time for roughly 30 minutes. Authorities were prompted that the system was used illegally and tried to shut it down electronically. Since they could not override the hacker, the tornado alert system had to be disconnected from the power grid.
â€œThose sirens can only be triggered by our 911 dispatch center,â€ said Dwight Hohl, the cityâ€™s Division Chief of Life Safety Services. â€œItâ€™s not something that just anyone can do. Weâ€™re not certain on the source.â€
According to Shaughnessy, the systems are activated via a radio signal that contains a unique code. Since the investigation did not yield any signs of system malfunction, one of the most plausible explanations for the incident is that someone copied this unique code and broadcasted it without authorization.
Tornado alert systems are placed in locations often subject to bad weather. Triggering such alerts not only causes panic among villagers, but may also make them immune to their sounds when a real alert is issued. These incidents outline once again the importance of securing key infrastructures against unauthorized use.