Remember the emergency presidential alert system that made everyone's phone be heard unpleasantly last year?
That hackers can falsify these alerts with relatively little effort, according to a terrifying new document that warns that the failure could cause a massive panic.
Titled ?This is its president speaking: forgery of alerts in 4G LTE networks?, it details how a group of researchers could successfully falsify mobile presidential alerts using commercially available equipment.
They were able to do so due to a failure in LTE networks that makes it possible for people to use equipment purchased in stores to create "Black market cell towers", According to the authors of the article.
This vulnerability could represent much more than a practical joke. As the authors of the article point out, a false alert could have devastating effects if it is sent to a particularly dense area such as the center of a city or a stadium.
"Almost all stadiums with 50,000 seats can be attacked with a 90% success rate," the researchers from the University of Colorado wrote.
?The true impact of such an attack will depend, of course, on the density of cell phones in the range; false alerts in crowded cities or stadiums could generate a cascade of panic. ?
The United States has already tried this
Last year, an alert about an incoming ballistic missile terrified Hawaiians before officials confirmed it had been a mistake.
An investigation later discovered that a series of errors led to the false alarm.
Researchers at the University of Colorado said this incident was what inspired them to investigate the presidential alert system and possible vulnerabilities.
They said they notified government officials of their findings before the document was published, although they point out that the solution to the problem will actually be a lengthy process.