Call 911 if you want help.
Call 911 a hundred thousand times simultaneously from iPhones around the country if you want to jam up the 911 system.
Until recently, a design in the iPhone operating system allowed for just that kind of attack. But no more, thanks to an update in the latest iOS, version 10.3.
The Wall Street Journal reports that malicious code allegedly created by a nefarious Arizona teen and shared widely on Twitter forced iPhones to dial 911 over and over again — essentially DDoSing emergency call centers around the country.
The code took advantage of an iPhone feature that allowed people to start a phone call immediately after tapping on a phone number. This feature, apparently, was all the code needed.
This was not an academic fear. The paper reports that “operators in at least a dozen states across the U.S” were hit as a result of this hack, meaning that people trying to report legitimate emergencies had trouble getting through to 911 call centers.
According to an earlier report from the Journal, a tweet from @SundayGavin kicked off the frenzy of illegitimate calls on October 25, 2016. “I CANT BELIEVE PEOPLE ARE THIS STUPID,” the tweet, accompanied by a link, read.
This attack reportedly only worked on iPhones, and the sole way to get a phone to stop dialing 911 was to turn the device off. The link was reportedly clicked 117,502 times.
“I think [the originator of the code] was just a teenage kid trying to make a name for himself in the hacker community,” Arizona’s Sheriff Sergeant Dennis Ogorchock told the paper.
He made a name for himself with law enforcement, instead.
Thankfully, the problem has been resolved, and iPhone users will now be prompted to tap a number a second time before starting a call.
As to the larger problem that 911 centers can be overwhelmed by spam calls? Well, that hasn’t been fixed. But at least you now know it won’t be your iPhone’s fault if it happens again.
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