Security experts from Colorado University have shown that it is very easy to exploit the government message system and send out fake alerts. During one of the test they sent a spoof message to each phone located within a football stadium which contained nearly 50,000 spectators. They said that exploitation of this weak message system could lead to panic in large crowds and pandemonium.
The WEA system has been used on a regular basis to warn people in different communities and locations of bad weather conditions or to find missing people and children. But in 2018 when a “presidential alert” was experimented on system experts stated that it could be used by hackers to spread misinformation. To prove their declaration eight researchers from the university demonstrated about ways of sending spoof message in small range with the use of simple tools like portable base stations of mobile phones and adapted software.
They said that WEA protocol was weak vulnerable specifically in case of creating and sending alerts by US President. The group used just four low power base stations to send messages to the stadium spectators which if applied wrongly could cause panic and fixing that kind of problem requires collaborative effort of carriers, mobile phone manufacturers and government bodies. They also contacted these stakeholders to give them warning about the flaw that they uncovered in the mass messaging system.
The system which also sends out weather warnings and war alerts sent an erroneous alert last year just during tensions between US and North Korea and wrongly messaged the people of Hawaii about ballistic missile threat which was actually a drill. As the system uses LTD to broadcast messages instead of sending out regular text messages a false alert can be sent to any device located within a tower’s range if the channel can be identified.