For the second time in as many years, the tornado sirens in Dallas County, Texas have been hacked.

On March 12, residents of Lancaster and DeSoto, Texas received an early-morning wakeup call when the tornado sirens starting going off at 2:20 a.m. and didn’t stop until after 3 a.m. Instead of a tornado on the horizon, city officials said a cybercriminal was behind the siren blasts.

“It has become evident that a person or persons with hostile intent deliberately targeted our combined outdoor warning siren network,” the city said in a statement issued early Tuesday evening.

Both cities rushed to reassure residents that there was no emergency, posting a flurry of messages on nearly every social media platform. Initially, both localities called the siren activations a “malfunction,” before eventually labeling it as a hacking.

“After consulting with the technical experts who help us to operate the outdoor emergency sirens in our area, and based on the widespread impact to these sirens, it appears that…this action appears to have been intentional,” said City of DeSoto Spokesperson Matt Smith.

The cities have not yet determined who hacked their sirens and are still investigating the incident.

However, this isn’t the first time Dallas County has had its emergency warning sirens hacked. In April 2017, the City of Dallas was the victim of a similar attack, when all 156 of the city’s sirens went off for more than 90 minutes straight. Similar to the 2019 incident, the city initially called the issue a malfunction before announcing the cyberattack. The city eventually found that a lack of encryption led to the intrusion.

“We need to improve but someone intruded in our system,” Dallas City Manager T.C. Broadnax said at the time of the incident. “So had they not done something that is illegal, then, in fact, the notification and the issues wouldn’t have occurred. We’ll own what we need to own and that is we’ll work to improve our system.”

Following an investigation, the 2017 hacker was determined to be someone local who potentially had remote access to the system. However, no arrest was ever made in connection with the incident.

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Kate Polit
Kate Polit
Kate Polit is MeriTalk SLG's Assistant Copy & Production Editor, covering Cybersecurity, Education, Homeland Security, Veterans Affairs