A new report in the Los Angeles Times focuses in on the threat posed when people hijack the communications of a hospital. The worry is that, if someone that was looking for something more than a simple payoff ever hacked into a public safety system, they would be able to cripple such vital services and endanger citizens.
The threat is posed by something called a denial of service attack. This typically involves a hacker who has been able to take over thousands of computers and who then directs those devices to visit one particular website. In the case of the hospital examined in the report, the phone lines were attacked, a strategy made possible with the advent of Voice over Internet Phone Systems.
Thus, persons attempting to get through to the affected San Diego hospital found themselves unable to. Hackers can take advantage of cellphone security shortfalls and other readily available technology to direct phones to dial a single number the same way that computers can be used to crash a website.
The issue is somewhat hard to examine due to an unwillingness among victimized institutions to share their plight lest it happen again. But evidence suggests it has happened to nursing homes, schools, and various institutions responsible for public safety.
Officials are working on getting this problem under control, and hopefully it happens soon. One shudders to think about what could happen if citizens were unable to get ahold of emergency respondents when they need to.