Posted on June 29, 2019 at 9:19 AM
With the hacking attacks constantly getting larger and more devastating, security researchers are working hard to find as many flaws in as many critical systems as they can. This type of behavior led them to a most recent discovery, which is more than capable of causing mass panic and other devastating consequences.
Fake presidential alerts might start coming
The new discovery revolves around the LTE networks. Thanks to a vulnerability within, it is possible for hackers to send a presidential alert notification with a minimal amount of effort. The researchers explained the details of their findings in a paper called ‘This is Your President Speaking: Spoofing Alerts in 4G LTE Networks.’
The paper points out that the LTE network is not safe, and that it is rather easy to hack it thanks to a certain flaw. Hackers do not need any special equipment, and pretty much everything they really require can be purchased in most local stores. With a bit of crafting capabilities, they would be able to make their own ‘black market cell tower,’ as the researchers called it. That is all they need to push out fake presidential alerts.
Of course, the alerts themselves would be completely fake, but the mass panic that might emerge from any such notification could lead to injuries, damage, trauma, and more. The grimmest scenario that the researchers proposed was sending such notification in densely populated areas. The worst locations for people to find themselves in when a fake presidential alert comes would be places like the city center, stadiums, and alike.
Researchers from the University of Colorado point out that it would not be unusual for some stadiums to have over 50,000 people within. If one of these fake alerts were to be sent, it is estimated that they would have a 90% success rate. Researchers did say that the success of the attack — as well as the full impact — would depend on multiple factors, including the cell phone density in a targeted area.
The phones that can be impacted need to be in the range of the black market cell tower, but in areas such as large stadiums, that can still impact thousands, which would undoubtedly quickly spread the word, as well as panic itself.
High tensions might make the alerts more believable
Things like this did happen before, as recently as last year. During the incident, Hawaiians received a pretty large scare when they started getting notifications about a ballistic missile that is heading towards the island. With no reason to mistrust the alert, mass panic erupted, even though the people were not in any real danger. The following investigation discovered that the entire thing was a false alarm and that everyone is as safe as they were before. However, calling something like this ‘just a prank’ is a massive understatement.
With the tensions between the US and several countries around the world — including Russia, Iran, Syria, China — people are already quite nervous regarding what might happen. Receiving a notification such as the one that Hawaiians got last year is much more likely to cause mass panic than simple confusion.
The researchers from the University of Colorado stated that the presidential alert system, as well as its potential misuse, was what inspired them to look into any potential flaws. Sure enough, they found what they were looking for. Not only that, but they were even able to successfully fake mobile presidential alerts themselves — purely for the purpose of discovering whether or not it is possible to do so. All of this is revealed in detail in their report. Of course, as soon as their suspicions were confirmed, the researchers immediately notified the US government. While their research is delivered and explained, the vulnerability is a serious one, and many believe that fixing it would require a fair bit of time. Meanwhile, it is important to spread awareness of such things, just in case someone actually tries to cause panic, whether as a prank or with a specific goal in mind.