Authorities probe radio, website disruptions during Black Lives Matter protests

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

Authorities probe radio

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

Authorities have not even identified anyone responsible or provided specifics about just how the disruptions were accomplished. But officials were particularly concerned by interruptions to police radio frequencies throughout the last weekend of May as dispatchers attempted to direct responses to large protests and unrest that overshadowed peaceful demonstrations.

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, according to a June 1 intelligence assessment from the US Department of Homeland Security.

Dallas police failed to interact with questions on the incident.

The assessment, which has been obtained by way of the Associated Press, attributes the Dallas disruption to “unknown actors” and does not say the way that they accessed the radio frequency. It warned that attacks of numerous types would likely persist.

“Short-term disruptive cyber activities connected to protests probably continue – various actors may possibly be undertaking these operations – with all the possibility to use more impactful capabilities, like ransomware, or target higher profile networks,” the assessment warns.

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

Police throughout the country have encrypted their radio communications, often arguing that it’s the right 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 are already frustrated by modifications, which prevent them from reporting on issues associated with public safety.

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.” According to the report obtained by the AP, information shared on social media included home addresses, email addresses and phone numbers.

Law enforcement agencies happen to be targeted by online pranksters or hackers in recent times, including by some who claimed for being motivated by on-the-ground protests against police tactics. For example, the hacking collective Anonymous claimed responsibility with the defacement of local police departments’ websites in 2012 as protesters clashed with officers during the Occupy Wall Street movement.

Men and women who self-known as being a member of the collective also claimed to get accessed dispatch tapes along with other Ferguson Police Department records in 2014 right after a white police officer shot and killed Michael Brown, an 18-year-old black man.

Like other government entities, law enforcement agencies lately are already frequently targeted by ransomware attacks, where a perpetrator virtually locks up a victim’s computer files or demands and system payment to discharge them.

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

“The biggest concern they offer right away could be the safety of their communities, the safety of the officers,” Wright said of how law enforcement agencies view cyberthreats amid large unrest and demonstrations. “But if you ever take a look at what underpins everything we use to communicate, operate and collaborate, it’s all technology.”

As large protests gathered steam after the May 25 death of Floyd, 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. Tim Walz said state networks appeared to be targeted. He described the activity like a “a very sophisticated denial of service attack.”

But experts said the strategy of bombarding a web site with traffic is usual and doesn’t always have a higher level 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 many years of infrequent activity. The decentralized group largely went quiet in 2015 but is still known globally in line with headline-grabbing cyberattacks against Visa and MasterCard, the Church of Scientology and law enforcement agencies.

Twitter users also made unverified claims that Anonymous was behind recent intermittent outages on the city government’s website inside Texas capital of Austin. Their posts established that the disruption was retribution for police officers shooting a 20-year-old black man in your head with a bean bag during a May 31 protest just outside of police headquarters.

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

A spokesman said Monday that he couldn’t provide any information about the cause, although the city’s IT department was looking into the site’s issues. He was quoted saying the site was still experiencing a top quantity of traffic.

“You must have expected us,” an account purporting to generally be Anonymous’ posted on Twitter. Additionally, it warned that “new targets are coming soon.”

The collective’s approach – now you may act inside the name – will make it challenging to verify the current claims of responsibility. But Twitter accounts long connected to Anonymous shared them, said Gabriella Coleman, a professor at McGill University in Montreal having studied the Anonymous movement consistently.

Folks with more complex and disruptive hacking skills often drove peak instances of attention for Anonymous, and it’s not clear whether that model of activity will resume, she added.

“There’s several things happening inside background, customers are chatting,” Coleman said. “Whether or maybe not it materializes is an additional question. But certainly many people are style of talking and arousedtalking and connecting.”


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


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