Meetkumar Hiteshbhai Desai, 18, was arrested on three counts of felony computer tampering after allegedly sending out a link on Twitter that forced people's phones to call 911 repeatedly. Authorities were not amused. Image: AP
On the night of October 25, a 911 centre in Surprise, Arizona received over 100 calls "within a matter of minutes," according to statement by Maricopa County Sheriff's office. The Surprise Police Department later said that the attack put their operators "in immediate danger of losing service to their switches". Detectives traced the calls back to a malicious link that was hosted on a webpage owned by Desai.
"The Peoria Police Department and the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office also received a large volume of these repeated 911 hang up calls and had the potential danger of losing service throughout Maricopa County," the sheriff's statement reads. "It was also discovered that agencies in California and Texas were affected at their respective 911 systems by this bug. Meet claimed that his intention was to make a non-harmful, but annoying bug that he believed was 'funny.'"
Some of the those targeted took to Twitter to report the apparent hack as it was happening:
When u click a link on Twitter and it makes you call 911 12 times
— emily (@emilysharkey143) October 26, 2016
So Im just chilling on twitter right. I click this link & it calls 911 repeatedly until it finally stops. THEN THEY CALL BACK. I hate myself
— CAYTEE (@CayteeBlackk) October 26, 2016
tfw you click a link on twitter and it makes you call 911 19 times pic.twitter.com/VushAyqSmG
— aleksandr (@papilllay) October 26, 2016
ur a dick i literally called 911 and wouldn't let me decline so i had to explain some guy on twitter made me click a link https://t.co/TURSOyZGMu
— jonny aguilar (@jonnyaguilar45) October 26, 2016
Desai also told investigators that he had possession of another piece of malware, which in addition to repeatedly calling 911, could also make people's devices freeze and reboot. We don't exactly know how clicking a link on Twitter could force a phone to dial 911, but exploits that allow hackers to take over phones have definitely existed in the past.
Now that Desai is facing three felony counts, it's natural to wonder why he decided to do something as dumb as screwing with the emergency system. Apparently, the teen just wanted some good old fashioned hacker glory. "Meet [Desai] later claimed that he developed these malicious bugs and viruses to be recognised in the hacker and programming community as someone who was very skilled," said the sheriff's statement.
More sophisticated attackers have found iPhone bugs that allow them to completely control phones. This will always be true about our devices: They're not perfectly secure, and hackers will always find a way to hijack them. Meanwhile, emergency call centres are particularly vulnerable to attacks by hackers. All it takes is figuring out a way to get phones to repeatedly make calls to wreck havoc.