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Authorities probe radio, website disruptions during Black Lives Matter protests

Authorities are investigating interference with police radio networks, websites and communications as used by law enforcement along with officials during recent US protests during the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

Authorities probe radio

Although the efforts to disrupt police radios and disassemble websites in Texas, Minnesota and Illinois aren’t considered technically difficult hacks, federal intelligence officials warned that police force should be prepared for such tactics as protests continue.

Authorities have not yet identified anyone responsible or provided information regarding what sort of disruptions were conducted. But officials were particularly concerned by interruptions to police radio frequencies in the last weekend of May as dispatchers attempted to direct responses to large protests and unrest that overshadowed peaceful demonstrations.

According to a June 1 intelligence assessment from the US Department of Homeland Security, during protests in Dallas on May 31, someone gained access to the police department’s unencrypted radio frequency and disrupted officers’ communications by playing music over their radios.

Dallas police did not improve with questions about the incident.

The assessment, that was obtained by your Associated Press, attributes the Dallas disruption to “unknown actors” and fails to say the way they accessed the radio frequency. It warned that attacks of diverse types would likely persist.

“Short-term disruptive cyber activities relating to protests probably will continue – various actors might possibly be performing these operations – aided by the potential to use more impactful capabilities, like ransomware, or target higher profile networks,” the assessment warns.

The assessment noted similar difficulties with Chicago police’s unencrypted radio frequencies during large downtown protests on May 30 together with reports of theft, vandalism and arson. Chicago police also have not said how the radio frequencies were accessed, but an official with the city’s Office of Emergency Management and Communications told the Chicago Sun-Times that the tactic was “very dangerous.”

Police in the country have encrypted their radio communications, often arguing that it’s a way to protect officers and block criminals from listening in on accessible phone apps that broadcast police radio channels. But media outlets and native hobbyists were aggravated by modifications, that prevent them from reporting on issues concerning public safety.

According to the report obtained by the AP, information shared on social media included home addresses, email addresses and phone numbers, the Department of Homeland Security issued a separate warning this week reporting that personal information of police officers nationwide is being leaked online, a practice known as “doxxing.”.

Law enforcement agencies are targeted by online pranksters or hackers in recent times, including by some who claimed that should be motivated by on-the-ground protests against police tactics. As an example, the hacking collective Anonymous claimed responsibility for any defacement of local police departments’ websites in 2012 as protesters clashed with officers through the entire Occupy Wall Street movement.

Individuals that self-recognized as being a member of the collective also claimed to possess accessed dispatch tapes in addition to other Ferguson Police Department records in 2014 following a white police officer shot and killed Michael Brown, an 18-year-old black man.

Like other government entities, police force agencies lately were frequently targeted by ransomware attacks, where a perpetrator virtually locks up a victim’s computer files or demands and system payment to release them.

The prevalence of cyberattacks – which can cause physical damage or far-reaching disruption – and less severe online trickery, along the lines of stealing passwords, has given police force agencies more experience at fending off efforts to have down their websites or access critical information. But hackers adapt too, and governments with fewer resources than private companies often struggle to take care of, said Morgan Wright, chief security officer to the cybersecurity company SentinelOne.

“The biggest concern they have right away will be the safety of the communities, the security from the officers,” Wright said of methods police force agencies view cyberthreats amid large demonstrations and unrest. “But should you look into what underpins everything we use to operate, collaborate and communicate, it’s all technology.”

A handcuffed black man who died after a white Minneapolis police officer used his knee to pin his neck down for several minutes, Minnesota Gov, as large protests gathered steam after the May 25 death of Floyd. Tim Walz said state networks was targeted. He described the activity as a good “a very sophisticated denial of service attack.”

But experts said the strategy of bombarding a website with traffic is common and doesn’t always create a great deal of skill, counter to Walz’s description. Minnesota’s Chief Information Officer Tarek Tomes later said state services weren’t disrupted.

Nonetheless the efforts got plenty of attention, partly due to unverified online claims that Anonymous was responsible after years of infrequent activity. The decentralized group largely went quiet in 2015 but is still known globally influenced by headline-grabbing cyberattacks against MasterCard and Visa, the Church of Scientology and police force agencies.

Twitter users also made unverified claims that Anonymous was behind recent intermittent outages over the city government’s website while in the Texas capital of Austin. Their posts indicated that the disruption was retribution for police officers shooting a 20-year-old black man through the head by using a bean bag during the May 31 protest away from police headquarters.

The injured protester, identified by family as Justin Howell, remained hospitalized Wednesday in critical condition.

The city’s IT department was looking into the site’s issues, but a spokesman said Monday that he couldn’t provide any information about the cause. He said the internet site was still experiencing a greater volume of traffic.

“You have to have expected us,” your account purporting for being Anonymous’ posted on Twitter. Moreover it warned that “new targets are coming soon.”

The collective’s approach – you can act in their name – renders it tough to verify the recent claims of responsibility. But Twitter accounts long associated with Anonymous shared them, said Gabriella Coleman, a professor at McGill University in Montreal who may have studied the Anonymous movement for several years.

People that have more advanced and disruptive hacking skills often drove peak cases of attention for Anonymous, and it’s not clear whether that sort of activity will resume, she added.

“There’s several things materializing inside background, customers are chatting,” Coleman said. “Whether or otherwise not it materializes can also be a question. But certainly men and women are kind of talking and arousedtalking and connecting.”


Foody reported from Chicago. Associated Press writer Jake Bleiberg in Dallas contributed to this report.


Acacia Coronado can be described as corps member to your Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America really is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.

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