Surprise, Your Government or Emergency Agency Has Been Hacked

Everyone knows not to open attachments or get hacked. But cyber attackers find ways to infiltrate government employee email and emergency equipment.


It’s news of a pay raise sent by email to a government employee. Or, it’s tornado sirens that keep going off in the absence of inclement weather. Your local government has just been hacked -- and it didn’t happen the way you thought it might.

Cyber Attacks Can Be Creative & Devious

Government security professionals have cautioned cities about computer viruses and emails that contain a malicious link or attachment that often come from bots -- Internet-enabled devices -- or a network of them.

But cyber attacks can be well thought out.

A recent report in the Star Tribune indicated that 20 Hennepin County employee e-mail accounts had been recently compromised by cyber attackers in a personal, sophisticated phishing scam.

The attackers used e-mails disguised as pay-raise notifications, duping the employees into giving up their login information, and then using their official accounts and signatures to spread the attack.

Jerome Driessen, the county’s chief information officer, said Hennepin County advises its 9,500 employees not to put private information into email, and has conducted simulated phishing attack exercises with staff.

Private information related to the the county’s services may have been accessed and the county is still investigating if there was or could be a breach.

The Hacks are Not Just Through Computers

Two reports from Michigan indicated that emergency dispatch officials in Genesee County believe someone is hacking into tornado sirens in the Flint area.

Five sirens have been set off at least five times since June -- and officials believe they are being hacked through radio signals.

Genesee County 911 Board director Mark Emmendorfer said once the officials turned off the sirens, they would then be set off again in a story about the series of false alarms.

It’s a puzzling hack, so the Federal Bureau of Investigation and Federal Communications Commission are investigating the series of incidents. Other 911 dispatch centers in the state have been alerted to the incident.

There are technologies that help emergency agencies keep those radio frequencies protected, but a cyber hack is not impossible, said Ottawa County Emergency Management Director Nick Bonstell interviewed for a story about the region’s alert.

Dispatchers are concerned about 911 agencies being inundated with telephone calls, impairing service on calls for real emergencies.

Andrea Fox is Editor of and Senior Editor at Lexipol. She is based in Massachusetts.