back to article US 911 service needs emergency upgrade and some basic security against scumbags

The US emergency response system is in urgent need of better security as it’s surprisingly easy to disable or spoof 911 calls. In a talk at Defcon 22 two doctors (who are also hackers) and a security consultant presented research into the emergency response system and how calls via fixed line, mobile phones and VoIP are routed. …

Silver badge

It just happened here near Orlando this week - "nearly 30 officers respond to prank call"

http://www.orlandosentinel.com/news/local/breakingnews/os-swatting-oviedo-911-prank-20140808,0,1174942.story

0
0
Silver badge

Don't give it a name

As soon as it gets an "internet name", people think it is cool to do it for a while.

It isn't twerking, it's waving your bum/fanny around.

It isn't swatting, it's being a dick.

Hopefully "swatting" will just go a way like flashmobs and other "memes".

0
0
Silver badge

Press 1 for English, 2 if you are in a fatal accident...

I don't think adding an extra step in emergency calls is helpful. Every so often, we get a news story about a toddler who saved a life by making a "Mummy won't wake up" call. The more serious the call, the more likely the caller is in shock, distressed, or confused.

28
0

Re: Press 1 for English, 2 if you are in a fatal accident...

¿Qué? ¡Enviar a la policía ahora! Por favor!

5
0
Silver badge

Re: Press 1 for English, 2 if you are in a fatal accident...

"This is the wrong number. You may want to dial 357."

0
0

Re: Press 1 for English, 2 if you are in a fatal accident...

"You have dialled the Springfield police emergency hotline! If you know the name of the felony being committed, press one! To choose from a list of felonies, press two! If you are being murdered, or are calling from a rotary phone, please stay on the line!"

-Bart presses random buttons-

"You have selected 'Regicide'! If you know the name of the king or queen being murdered, press one!"

14
0
Silver badge

Re: Press 1 for English, 2 if you are in a fatal accident...

>"This is the wrong number. You may want to dial 357."

Or 0118 999 881 999 119 725 3

1
0
Bronze badge

Re: Press 1 for English, 2 if you are in a fatal accident...

Isn't the real Springfield emergency number 912?

0
0
Silver badge

Re: Press 1 for English, 2 if you are in a fatal accident...

Not even necessarily shock but just panic. When I was a teen someone hit a boy riding his bike near our house. My mother went to call the police and couldn't remember the number. They'd just started rolling out the 911 system in our area. She'd gotten a sticker and put it on the phone. That sticker let her make the call.

1
0
Bronze badge
Happy

Re: Press 1 for English, 2 if you are in a fatal accident...

¿Qué? ¡Enviar a la policía ahora! Por favor!

Must be something Fawlty with the system....maybe Manuel could help....

Manuel: Que?

Mrs. Richards: What?

Manuel: Que?

Mrs. Richards: Kay?

Manuel: Si.

Mrs. Richards: Sea?

[Manuel nods]

Mrs. Richards: Kay, sea? Kay sea? What are you trying to say?

Manuel: No. No, no, no. Que... what.

Mrs. Richards: Kay Watt?

Manuel: Si, que: what.

Mrs. Richards: C.K. Watt?

Manuel: Yes!

Mrs. Richards: Who is C. K. Watt?

Manuel: Que?

Mrs. Richards: Is he the manager, Mr. Watt?

Manuel: Oh, manajer!

Mrs. Richards: He is?

Manuel: Ah, Mister Fawlty!

Mrs. Richards: What?

Manuel: Fawlty!

...

:)

0
0
Silver badge

On the surface, what seems most astounding is the level of response that these call-ins get. Yes, a 14 year old having shot their parent is rather serious. However, the overwhelming response seems to be more aimed at protecting the police than the neighborhood.

I have two friends in the police and another in the SPG and I worry about them. I believe in the work they do and think that it's tough and dangerous. Putting that to one side, the police MUST accept that at any call-out like this has the potential to be a hoax and they may well be terrifying, pointing automatic rifles at and forcefully restraining completely innocent people.

While I accept the need for police to keep themselves safe, that must be weighed against the very real - and apparently increasingly likely - possibility that the call is a hoax and the people they are about to treat as criminals are, in fact, the victims.

For my part, I would do my very, very best to sue to police. Yes, I know how that sounds and I get it - I do. But, as a tax payer and one of the people the police are sworn to protect (not to mention paid to), I have an expectation that they will excercise all due caution and good judgment in any given situation.

In Sydney just the other month the victim was arrested and taken for questioning, as well as having all his electronic devices taken and searched. That is UTTERLY unwarranted (yes). If a call claims that someone has their father tied to a chair for sexually assaulting their mother then that's a pretty easy thing to ascertain. You go in, and, if the family are all fine and tell you that it was clearly a hoax, then, well, you calm the fuck down, put your hand-cuffs away and treat the person as a VICTIM, not a suspect.

That means you don't hand-cuff him, you don't take him in for questioning and you don't confiscate his property. At that point, you send the hut-huts away to go have some cold showers and leave a nice, friendly officer to talk to the victim (because that's what they are)

Again, I appreciate the real need to take every threat seriously but it should be pretty bloody obvious when they get on site if the situation is a hoax or not. If there is no immediate danger then there is no need for the a tactical team and they should be sent away immediately, with the sincerest apologies from the officer in charge.

All of that is a little beside the point of the article of course.

24
3
Silver badge

But if you put the handcuffs away and go home you look like an idiot.

If you arrest them you might find something else incriminating,

If not - well you got an arrest - not your fault if the DPP/prosecutor didn't make a case

5
2
Silver badge

I suspect there is a bit of this, which was contained in the 'have some cold showers' comment and was to say that they are likely to be all hyped-up, full of adrenaline, and, just as some will be overjoyed that the situation was only a hoax and no one was hurt and they didn't need to use force, so too will there be others who are somewhat let down that they got all hut-hut'ed-up for a non-event.

And, if police procedure specifies that you must arrest the victim and take them in for questioning and seize their personal possessions without permission then police procedure needs to be changed.

Apologies for the Ps - I tried to remove the alliteration but couldn't figure a better way to say it.

8
1
Bronze badge

In the USA Police Departments are allocated resources, dependent on how many arrests they make, so no matter what, it's financially more viable to arrest everyone and let half of them go, than it is to let every innocent person go. There's a good chance the person did something illegal at some point after all and ignorance of the law doesn't give you the right to break it. So even if the initial arrest is unwarranted, as long as they find something incriminating afterwards, they get a nice and fat bonus.

8
2
Silver badge

"financially more viable to arrest everyone and let half of them go"

Um, here's a novel idea : instead of arresting a whole family and sifting their trash to find a reason to be there, how's about the officers realize that it was a hoax and transport their unit to the origin of the call to find the dipwad that made the call and treat him to the live-3D version of "these are your new bracelets, feel how tight they are" ?

Or is that too intelligent ?

Yeah, probably is.

9
1
Go

Re: "financially more viable to arrest everyone and let half of them go"

Look, not to be defending the cops too much, but I am certain they have walked into MANY domestic situations and been told "Everything is fine officer", when its quite clear that one (or more) people are clearly terrified in the situation.

Now in these Swatting cases, that terror might be induced by having a SWAT team arrive at the people's house, but again it might not be. And the police would be absolutely vilified if they came to such a situation, walked away, and then the next morning discovered that the entire family was murdered by that nice seeming father, who assured the officers that it must have been a hoax call and of course everyone in the house was fine and not at all about to be murdered.

This is a lose-lose situation for the cops. Either they are overbearing (when they arrest someone) or they are potentially negligent (when they walk away and the people end up being killed). It's not really a surprise given the choices that they go for overbearing...

7
2
Bronze badge

Re: "Apologies for the Ps.. "

That's OK; I like Ps.

(and I like Cheese but I love Squeezy Cheesey Ps.)

1
0
Silver badge

Re: "financially more viable to arrest everyone and let half of them go"

@lglethal

You are absolutely correct - the police must take these things very seriously.

However, police officers are not just mindless automatons. We entrust them to use their judgement and deploy a proportionate response to any situation. I am fully accepting of the fact that things are different 'on the ground' but that is what police officers are trained and paid to do. I do not wish to trivialise the very real dangers or dilemmas they face but we, as a society, bestow HUGE amounts of power in these people and we have a right to expect that power to be used wisely.

We issue them with lethal weapons and give them the power to deprive us of our freedom - and indeed our lives - if they believe there is good cause. It is not too much to ask that those people we invest that power in are at all times cognisant of the trust we have placed in them.

I accept that the answer is not straight-forward but if you - as a trained police officer - cannot tell the difference between a 14 year old who has had a prank played on him and one who has - apparently until you came bursting in - just been holding his family captive with a rifle*, then perhaps the trust and power that has been given to you has been misplaced.

It might be jumping on your words but you mention situations where the family is "clearly terrified". Surely that reinforces my point. What happens when you bust in and the family are "clearly" more shocked at you being there than the are scared of their 17 year old son who, until a few moments ago, was asleep in his bed?

* - Remember that most of these pranks seem to be against younger people and several in the dead of night (for maximum effect) so the justification of a family scared of an overbearing father is not as relevant. I mean, really, when the whole family has CLEARLY been asleep and none of the neighbours have heard anything, or when you bust in and the suspect has a game on the Xbox on pause, then perhaps might sway you one way or the other.

10
2
Silver badge
Mushroom

Re: "financially more viable to arrest everyone and let half of them go"

...we, as a society, bestow HUGE amounts of power in these people...

Well, there's your problem. Honestly, when was the last time you saw ANYONE being bestowed with ANY power and fail to abuse it shortly...? There's this spot on the map of our brain loosely labelled "the centre of with great power comes great responsibility", except the corresponding spot invariably turns out to be just a cauterized void (if you're lucky; if not, it's occupied by the functional equivalent of an endorphins-crazed monkey hitting the "pleasure" button again and again and again).

I'm pretty sure any enforcement officer (of any kind) would feel mortally offended if you took them aside and explained to them that it's not actually their job to decide anything, considering any necessary course of action is supposed to be fully defined by what actually has been committed (or not) by a suspect - their role is to recognize / establish that, not decide it - their freedom of decision on this is supposed to be ZERO. Except we all know it never is, and they expect nothing less to come with the power they oh so much enjoy...

1
1
Anonymous Coward

Re: "financially more viable to arrest everyone and let half of them go"

Well, then, you've got an intractable problem. Because you need SOMEONE to defend yourself from outlaws. That's a given. Also a given: not everyone has the capability, but you won't know this until the situation arises. Without an ability to enforce the laws, cheaters will run roughshod over everyone else. But by your belief, the very act of having a law enforcement turns THEM into the oppressors. So it basically comes down to a "pick your poison."

0
1
Silver badge
Pint

Re: "financially more viable to arrest everyone and let half of them go"

lglethal "...are clearly terrified in the situation."

How can the SWAT team tell that the innocent people are terrified when these innocent people are on the ground, facing down, with their arms hog-tied behind their back? All while being covered by 27 hyped-up, Steroid-enraged, adrenalin junkies waving their M16s around? Flip one over and you'd see he or she is maintaining perfectly tranquil composure.

I prefer the British model where the police phone for an appointment first. Even if it's 1AM. Sweet.

1
1
Silver badge

Re: "financially more viable to arrest everyone and let half of them go"

@AC

"But by your belief, the very act of having a law enforcement turns THEM into the oppressors."

For what it's worth (nothing), I don't believe that's the case. Not that you said it was, either, of course!

I believe that many, many, police officers are good, honest people who genuinely care about their job and whom we can be proud of. As I alluded to, the problem is more likely to be the procedures or, more generally, the bureaucracy that surrounds and pervades all our public services - including and especially the police.

People are, generally, good. No, my meds haven't just kicked in - I mean it: people are good. It's when decisions are controlled from afar that things get messy. In a way, that's just a downside of living in such large groups - cities and states and countries; the bigger a community gets, the further away the decisions are from the people.

Police are a kind of interface between the two - between those who make the laws and dictate the procedures and those they affect. For that reason, the quality of the people who form that interface is of paramount importance.

And so I hold them to a higher standard than others but I think that that is fair, given their role in society. If we expect a corrupt police force then we get it. The men and women 'on the front lines' must realise that we respect them but expect a lot from them.

1
1

Re: "financially more viable to arrest everyone and let half of them go"

transport their unit to the origin of the call to find the dipwad that made the call ...

Or is that too intelligent ?

No, not really... since they wouldn't have a clue where to look and even if they did, it's probably going to be just slightly out of their jurisdiction.

0
0

Re: "financially more viable to arrest everyone and let half of them go"

I mean, really, when the whole family has CLEARLY been asleep and none of the neighbours have heard anything...

Kicked in a lot of doors, have you?

0
3
Silver badge

Re: "financially more viable to arrest everyone and let half of them go"

@J__M__M

No, but I have been asleep before. I know how I am dressed for bed and how I look at 4am and how my bed looks when I crawl out of it after being rudely awakened at that time.

I must admit that I don't know what I would look like if the police barged in while I had my father tied to a chair but I am moderately confident that whatever I would look like, it probably wouldn't be quite the same as the first case.

Moreover, while I haven't seen my father in many years (I know, I know) and much less at 4am, I am again fairly sure that he would look vastly different after having been tied to said chair compared to having been woken in the middle of the night.

2
0

'In Sydney just the other month the victim was arrested and taken for questioning, as well as having all his electronic devices taken and searched. That is UTTERLY unwarranted (yes).'

Um .. did you read the article? According to the report, the hoax message was apparently sent through the victim's computer which he claimed was hacked.

So if someone owns the computer from which a swatting attempt is successfully made, and then claims in defence that the computer was hacked, then I'd suggest that the police were acting reasonably and responsibly in checking the computer and questioning the owner.

Here's the link again - http://www.smh.com.au/nsw/teenager-arrested-over-hostage-drama-says-he-is-a-victim-of-swatting-hoax-20140604-39hyo.html

1
0
Silver badge

Re: Now in these Swatting cases,

Most if not all of the swatting cases of which I have direct knowledge involve the hoax caller reporting an active shooter on the scene. That requires quite a different response from a domestic disturbance.

0
0
Silver badge

Re: seem to be against younger people

No, they aren't. In fact, most of them are against adults. It's just that those incidents haven't made the headlines, because the people who are being the most actively targeted are actually conservatives and the LSM don't like them so they don't matter.

0
1
Silver badge

The flip side to saying the cops should protect you is this: the police are your employees, as an employer you have an obligation to provide them with a safe working environment for your employees.

Sure you'd hope the police get it right, but that is not always going to happen. Real life does not have an Undo button. These incidents are not scripted. Nobody really knows who's the good guy and who's the bad guy. Hence the standard way of doing things is to just supress everyone (good guys and bad guys) to give a safe environment in which the real story can be figured out.

It sounds like the Oz cops you mentioned went way beyond what they needed to do to achieve that.

0
0

Think of the children ...

I didn't see what happened to the twelve year old who made the dangerous 'hoax' calls. I assume that given his age no action was taken against him?

1
0
Silver badge

Re: Think of the children ...

I assume that given his age no action was taken against him?

Which is the ain problem, of course. To deter people from making hoax, or even plain stupid ("Facebook is down") emergency calls, the only solution is to slap them with an appropriate punishment that will act as a deterrent.

We had a few bomb scares when I was at school, and the resutant evacuation into the street, watching the fire engines arrive, etc. was all good fun (for 13-year-olds). The inevitable result was that some pupils started calling in hoaxes. For an adult the consequences would have been a jail term, but that's inappropriate for thoughtless kids just being stupid. The headmaster simply announced that every hour lost in hoaxes would be made up on Friday afternoon/evening for the entire school. They stopped.

11
0
Silver badge
Thumb Up

Re: Think of the children ...

Did that actually happen in the land of "Zero Tolerance"?

0
0
Silver badge
Trollface

> pop star Justin Bieber

> SWAT team drives up

> "target was confused by the sudden commotion and the sight of HKs and tried to move"

"Pop star" suddenly acquires a different meaning.

1
0
Bronze badge

"however annoying 'Baby' is it’s not worth trying to kill him"

I beg to differ.

5
0
Coat

...anyone else thinking.

I like that 12 year old. :)

7
3
MJI
Silver badge

Emergency number for Porsche owners

So what do the rest of people use over there?

1
0
Slx
Bronze badge

Things have changed a lot in terms of technology but it's always been possible to make calls from payphones and that's how teenage brats pranked emergency services back in the 1980s.

Tracing calls also wasn't always possible. Until computerised switches arrived (not necessarily digital switching but just computer control) there was really no easy way for 999 or 911 or anything else to trace a call through an electromechanical exchange network. So that's most of the 20th century! Their phone network worked largely on relay logic well into the 1980s and even later at a local level even in the most advanced countries. Full digitalisation didn't happen until the 1990s.

I just worry that in order to protect 112…911 and 999 services the authorities may end up going completely overboard.

1
0
Joke

They could always change their emergency number too:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HWc3WY3fuZU

2
0
Bronze badge
Coat

Change emergency number...

I knew what that link was going to be before I clicked on it.... What does that make me, I wonder...

1
0
Silver badge

Re: Change emergency number...

No idea, since I still haven't clicked it. But have you tried to turn it off and on again...?

1
0
Anonymous Coward

OK, I LOLed!

A 12-year-old boy successfully got SWAT teams dispatched to the houses of actor and tech investor Ashton Kutcher and pop star Justin Bieber...

0
2
Silver badge

What hasn't been mentioned...

Wouldn't the local police probably know the addresses of local celebrities? Before dispatching SWAT to those locations (especially Kutcher, who pranked punkd a lot of people), they might want to get a confirmation?

0
0
Anonymous Coward

Re: What hasn't been mentioned...

"Before dispatching SWAT to those locations (especially Kutcher, who pranked punkd a lot of people), they might want to get a confirmation?"

That's the way it is for ordinary folks burglar alarms in much of the UK. Monitored residential alarms no longer result in an automatic police response. The alarm system calls the alarn company. The alarm company calls the home. The alarm company then make a decision as to whether to call police.

Privatisation, see? What could possibly go wrong?

1
0
Bronze badge

Re: What hasn't been mentioned...

For the record, a HUGE percentage of monitored alarms systems cause false alarms. A bad sensor, poorly closed or frost heaved (misaligned) door, kid coming home and forgetting the code, etc, etc.

There is little security in a home alarm systems that keeps crying "Wolf".

THIS is why alarm companies call the police, the alarm system does not direct dial them. If no one answers or says okay, then the alarm company assumes there is a real emergency.

Typically, false alarms will bring big fines as well.

2
0
Bronze badge

Re: What hasn't been mentioned...

Maybe Kutcher punk'd one of the cop's friends/associates...

On paper, a practical joker gets the heat on his ass, pretty funny, who wrote this stuff?

0
0
Bronze badge

"and however annoying Baby is it’s not worth trying to kill him for"

I'm not so sure about that.

3
0
Anonymous Coward

but some mobile calls can also include GPS

How's that? Surely only (GPS-enabled) handsets can use GPS to determine their location? Do they report their coordinates to the network over GSM when making calls?

0
0
Anonymous Coward

Re: but some mobile calls can also include GPS

There's ASSISTED GPS (A-GPS), which combines the cell towers with GPS to get a quicker, more accurate fix. And when you call an emergency line with a cell phone, the system can query the phone's location to the best of its ability. It's called Enhanced 911, and they designed it so that help can be sent even if the person is not cognizant of his/her location or coherent enough to describe it accurately, which is a distinct possibility when calling from a mobile phone (whereas with a landline, the phone number alone can provide a good idea of the caller's location). If a phone has GPS, it can be polled to get a good idea on the location. Otherwise, cell tower data can be used as a fallback (and since this is a feature of modern mobile phone design, it's always available).

1
0
Silver badge

Re: but some mobile calls can also include GPS

Enhanced 911 is deployed in a county-by-county basis in most States here in the US. Many places use an Enhanced 911 capable system, but use none of the enhanced features. My office and big house are in a part of Virginia where all the bells and whistles of Enhanced 911 are used. The county in the State of West Virginia where my actual home is does not use GPS or tower data to locate the position of the calling the device, nor does the county in Tennessee where I have my bunker.

It's all a big mess. It's best by far to know where you are and assume the 911 center (which is private in most places and staffed by zero police officers) won't have any idea where you're calling from.

2
0

This post has been deleted by its author

Page:

POST COMMENT House rules

Not a member of The Register? Create a new account here.

  • Enter your comment

  • Add an icon

Anonymous cowards cannot choose their icon

Forums