Let’s say it’s 2016 and the government has a message to get out to the public—ISIS is believed to be waging an attack on cell-phone towers in the United States. How can the feds communicate that to a population of cord-cutters when the towers are down?
That hypothetical scenario is one of the problems the government and telecommunications providers are grappling with, as they strategize how to maintain the integrity of emergency communications in an increasingly wireless world.
There are some solutions floating around in the Defense Department. That smartphone may not be as inert as most would expect when towers go kaput.
“At the base level, electronics that people have in their pockets are radio transceivers, and they can not only talk to cell towers; they can talk to each other,” Defense Chief Information Officer Terry Halvorsen said Wednesday.
“Should we mesh these together” if towers are unavailable “to propagate a broadcast signal to replace the old civil-defense broadcast?” he posited, referring to a Cold War-era arrangement for discreetly repeating messages from one radio station to another across the country.
Halvorsen was bouncing ideas off members of the President’s National Security Telecommunications Advisory Committee, a panel that compiles recommendations on critical national security and emergency preparedness issues.
“It would be unimaginable 50 years ago to talk about a situation where every citizen has a UHF transceiver in their pocket, but that’s what we have today and we should think out of the box in how to leverage that in emergency situations,” Halvorson said.
The advisory council has long warned the government about the difficulty of pushing out Wi-Fi and broadband communications to the masses during disasters.
“A router placed at the edge of the network to connect various types of residential, cellular, satellite, or enterprise clients to the core network may experience congestion at peak traffic times or during network events,” panel members wrote in a 2008 report, “National Security and Emergency Preparedness Internet Protocol-Based Traffic.”
A federal government colleague of Halvorsen’s from the Homeland Security Department pointed out one hiccup with harnessing the distributed-cellular power of crowds to get out a message.
“In a world where everybody can broadcast, the ability to spoof, or fake, a government broadcast is obviously increased,” said Andy Ozment, assistant secretary of the DHS Office of Cybersecurity and Communications.
Whereas now, “the likelihood that somebody will fake a government broadcast that overrides all the TV channels in the nation is relatively low; the likelihood that somebody will fake a government broadcast that appears on one stream of some commercial service is not as low at all,” Ozment cautioned.
There have, in fact, been instances of hackers interrupting regular programming to issue false warnings.
In 2013, a Montana TV station broadcast was disrupted by news of a zombie apocalypse, the Associated Press reported at the time. Unauthorized users broke into the Emergency Alert System of KRTV and its CW channel. According to the New York Daily News, a computerized voice advised: the “bodies of the dead are rising from their graves. Follow the messages on screen that will be updated as information becomes available. Do not attempt to approach or apprehend these bodies as they are considered extremely dangerous.”
The government should make it harder for pranksters or terrorists to log into emergency-communications systems, Halvorsen acknowledged.
“You don’t want some teenager thinking—’Oh, this is Super Twitter,’” he said. “It comes down to, Who has the keys that authorize such a transmission so that kind of design has to be thought about up front to make sure that this is a secure mechanism?”
What We're Following See More »
Until last month, National Security Advisor John Bolton chaired the New York-based nonprofit Gatestone Institute, which promoted "misleading and false anti-Muslim news." The group published articles warning of a looming “jihadist takeover” of Europe leading to a “Great White Death," alleged that “no-go zones” existing in Europe due to violence from Muslim migrants, and published one story called: “Rape Capital of the West," which focused on Somali migrants in Sweden. The research, which was occasionally amplified by Russian media outlets and Twitter bots, also criticized mainstream European leaders for failing to confront the so-called crisis.
"Armenian Prime Minister Serzh Sargsyan has resigned following days of large-scale street protests against him." Sargsyan had previously served 10 years as President, and protestors accused him of clinging to power. "In 2015, Armenians voted in a referendum to shift the country from a presidential to a parliamentary system, stripping powers from the president and giving them to the prime minister." Sargsyan's government has also been criticized for failing to ease tensions with Azerbaijan and Turkey, and "for its close ties to Russia, whose leader Vladimir Putin also moved between the positions of president and prime minister to maintain his grip on power."
President Trump "welcomes French President Emmanuel Macron the White House" today to begin a three-day state visit "expected to be dominated by U.S.-European differences on the Iran nuclear deal and souring trade relations." Trump has vowed to scrap the Iran nuclear deal "unless European allies strengthen it by mid-May." After meetings on Monday and Tuesday, Macron will address Congress on Wednesday, "the anniversary of the day that French General Charles de Gaulle addressed a Joint Session of Congress in 1960."
"A sheriff in Illinois says Travis Reinking," the suspect in a mass shooting that killed four people in a Tennessee Waffle House on Sunday, had his state firearms card revoked last year by state police, but that "his guns were given to his father with the promise that they wouldn’t be shared with his son ... Huston says Reinking’s father has a valid firearm ownership card, and his officers didn’t believe they had any authority to seize the weapons." Police are still searching for the 29-year-old suspect.