Over the last two months, dozens of emergency call centers across the United States have faced a phone-hacking onslaught by an unknown assailant or assailants. The FBI has not released the locations, but the attacks have followed a clear pattern: Emergency call lines get overwhelmed by incoming calls emanating from the Internet, making it difficult to process calls for life-saving emergencies. There seems to be no deeper political statement behind these attacks, as there might be when Internet hackers target a government website. Rather, it seems that the motive for these attacks is old-fashioned: The perpetrator is seeking a ransom payment.
Aside from being an imminent danger to public safety, this particular scam underscores the vulnerabilities of America’s local and state communications systems. Authorities should take these assaults as a warning, and make the necessary infrastructure and security investments to protect local public-safety lines. The range of potential attackers goes beyond ransom-seekers to include hackers with political or social justice grievances. Whatever the motive, such attacks interfere with the life-and-death work of first responders.