Baltimore’s 911 Dispatch System Hacked

It’s been revealed that another ransomware attack hit a major American city within the past week, as Baltimore city officials said hackers temporarily shut down the city’s 911 dispatch system over the weekend.

The attack hit a server that runs the city’s computer-aided dispatch system for 911 and 311 calls, the Baltimore Sun reports. The CAD system makes it easier to dispatch closer emergency responders, among other benefits.

Baltimore’s CAD system went down early Sunday morning and didn’t return until Monday morning — almost a full day. The city had no choice but to return to manual dispatching during that period.

The attack follows right on the heels of another high-profile ransomware attack on Atlanta’s city government last week. Atlanta is still struggling to recover from that cyberattack, as certain aspects of the city’s computer system are crippled, with officials still undecided on paying the $51,000 ransom.

In Baltimore, Frank Johnson, chief information officer in the Mayor’s Office of Information Technology, told the Sun that he was unaware of any specific ransom request, though the matter is under investigation.

How It Happened

While it’s unclear how the attack occurred in Atlanta, Baltimore officials have a good idea of how their hackers gained access. A server firewall was inadvertently changed, leaving an open channel accessible for about a day.

“I don’t know what else to call it but a self-inflicted wound,” Johnson said. “The bad guys did not get in on their own without the help of someone inadvertently leaving the door open.”

Baltimore workers were able to isolate the threat and confirm that all systems were secure before bringing the city CAD system back online. Atlanta hasn’t been so lucky.

This hack illustrates how quickly malicious actors can seize upon openings caused by human error. And it’s obvious why this particular hack is such an urgent issue. A less efficient 911 system can slow things down by minutes — which could be the difference between life and death.

Phil Dzikiy

Phil Dzikiy

Phil Dzikiy is the former editor in chief of Security Baron. Before, he has worked as a freelance writer and editor at websites like Wirecutter.com and iLounge.com along with publications like the Lockport Union Sun & Journal and the Greater Niagara Newspapers. With digital and print experience under his belt, Phil has a passion for all things technology including home security, cyber security, and the smart home. His bachelor's degree in Journalism from the University of Maryland College Park initially landed Phil his first job at the Beaver County Times, which has lead to over 15 years of experience as a journalist.

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