Tarrant County 911 officials said they learned valuable lessons after the 911 district fell victim to a cyber attack.
In late October, the county's 911 operators started getting hundreds of useless calls in a short period of time.
“We got about 600 calls system-wide,” Tarrant County 911 District Executive Director Greg Petrey said.
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Investigators in Maricopa County, Arizona, accuse 18-year-old Meetkumar Desai of creating the code that innitiated the calls that caused problems for 911 operators in several states.
"It wasn't really malware because it didn't put a virus on your phone. It created a 911 call," Petrey said. "[Desai] sent a tweet to his followers. It basically said, 'Click here for more information.' When you did that, it put your phone in a loop calling 911."
It appeared the calls came from smartphones and tablets and flooded 911 lines in Texas, California and Arizona.
“A link through Twitter was believed to be the cause of people’s phones dialing 911 over and over and not allowing them to hang up,” a Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office news release explained.
“We had several people call us and say, ‘I didn’t do that. I don’t know what happened,’” Petrey said.
Tarrant County 911 quickly alerted federal agencies.
"We were able to get with the carrier, get it shut down. We contacted the FBI and Homeland Security,” Petrey said. “We got an award from Homeland Security for being the first to report it and [start] working with them on the attack."
In Tarrant County, the calls came during a time when there was slower call volume.
"Luckily it was in the middle of the night,” Petrey said.
According to the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office, the Surprise Police Department in Arizona was, at one point, in immediate danger of losing service because of the heavy call volume.
Tarrant County officials, after being recognized for their fast actions, have gained insight into cyber security they hope will keep citizens safe.
“We now have a contact at Homeland Security [and] their cyber security 24 hour number which will certainly help us if something like this happens again," Petrey said.
Maricopa County Sheriff’s officials said Desai claimed he intended to make an “annoying bug that he believed was ‘funny.’”
A media release explained:
Meet stated he did manipulate the bug to include the phone number for emergency services 1+911. Meet stated that although he did add that feature to the bug he had no intention of pushing it out to the public, because he knew it was illegal and people would “freak out”. Meet stated that he may have accidentally pushed the harmful version of the (911) bug out to the Twitter link instead of the lesser annoying bug that only caused pop ups, dialing to make peoples devices freeze up and reboot.