Researchers Report on Denial of Service Threat to PSAPSs

Researchers at Ben-Gurion University in Israel say they have discovered that it is relatively easy to launch distributed denial-of-service attacks (DDoS) on public safety answering points (PSAPs). “The threat of a DDoS attack on 911 services launched from a mobile phone botnet has not been investigated in the past,” the researchers said in a new paper. “In this paper we expose a type of DDoS attack on 911 that cannot be blocked though conventional means. We show that a bot placed within the baseband firmware of a mobile phone can alter the internal protocol stack and render the device to have no genuine identification within the 2G, 3G, and 4G cellular networks.

“Such a bot can issue repeated emergency calls that cannot be blocked, technically or legally, by the network or the emergency call centers. We demonstrated the feasibility of this type of attack by successfully implementing and testing the bots within a small cellular network,” the paper added. “By simulating attacks on current 911 infrastructure, we found that just 6K [mobile phone] bots are sufficient to significantly compromise the availability of a state’s 911 services (and the deployment of only 200K bots can jeopardize services across the entire US). Lastly, we enumerated device-level and network-level countermeasures and examined their effectiveness.”

The researchers simulated an attack on 911 centers in North Carolina and found that calls could be disrupted for days. Public safety officials have said at conferences that they have seen an increase in cyber attacks on 911 centers, and the FCC’s Task Force on Optimal PSAP Architecture (TFOPA) addressed the issue in a report released earlier this year (TRDaily, Jan. 29). – Paul Kirby, paul.kirby@wolterskluwer.com

Courtesy TRDaily