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by CSO Contributor

Cell Phones Flaws Imperil 911 Response; Mobile Phones May Reveal Soldiers Locations; SARS Continues to Take Toll

Mar 31, 20034 mins
CSO and CISOData and Information Security

Cell Phones Flaws Imperil 911 Response

There are no figures available on how many rescue efforts go awry because of trouble with wireless 911 calls, but the problem is national in scope, according to a story in todays Washington Post. The roots of the problem are both technological and man-made. First, there are the ordinary woes that can beset any kind of cell phone callthe static, the echo, the inability to make a connection and the fact that a wireless signal can get picked up by the wrong cell phone tower. The Post reports that a recent study by Consumer Reports showed that about 15 percent of the 911 calls made on cell phones during a test didn’t get through. Making cell phones and the 911 systems compatible is, the Post says, a lumbering regulatory task that has already missed one key deadline on the road to implementation, set for 2005.Mobile Phones May Reveal Soldiers LocationsThe Register reports today that military commanders in Iraq have banned the use of Thuraya brand phones carried by journalists attached to their units, apparently fearing the signal could give away their location to Iraqi forces. Thuraya is the most popular satellite phone in Iraq, and has a built-in GPS unit that pinpoints the user’s location exactly. On March 29, an All Things Considered story on NPR reported on the sudden ban on the phones available and popular through much of Europe, Africa and Asia. A week into the war, the U.S. Marines abruptly decided they were dangerous. One reporter (using an Iridium phone) said a public affairs officer came rushing into the media encampment yelling, Get off the Thurayas! The Iridium sat phones are deemed acceptable. Many news outlets were affected; for example, the five embedded reporters for USA Today all lost communication. When asked if it were not censorship, a Marine major general said, On the battlefield operational security is critical&.There are times and places when you need to ensure that no communications go out in order to shield your movements and your intent.

Ironically, while 911 systems struggle to locate calls, the ability to pinpoint where a mobile call is coming from is working too well on the other side of the globe.

SARS Continues to Take TollReuters report today, more than 100 people in one Hong Kong apartment block were suspected to have been infected by a deadly pneumonia virus, triggering fears that the killer disease was being spread through air or water. The apartment block is part of Amoy Gardens, in a maze of crowded housing estates and smoke-spewing industrial buildings in one of the most densely-populated areas in the world. A total of 213 people living in the Amoy Gardens housing estate were confirmed or suspected to be infected with Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS). Meanwhile, an AP story in the Mercury News today reports that Thai Airways said Monday it would cancel 28 flights to Hong Kong and other regional and European destinations because of falling passenger numbers in the wake of a deadly flu-like illness in Asia and the war in Iraq. However, the Thai government said it has no plans to ban visitors from China, Hong Kong and other areas stricken with the disease that has killed 62 people in Hong Kong, China, Vietnam, Singapore and Canada. More than 1,600 people worldwide have been infected by the virus. And the Atlanta Constitution today says that the speed and complexity of SARS’ spread has taken aback even the CDC, which has been predicting an epidemic like this, and attempting to prepare for it, for years. The agency has hundreds of Atlanta staff assigned to the illness as well as investigators in Beijing; Hong Kong; Taiwan; Hanoi, Vietnam; Bangkok, Thailand; and Toronto. Authorities have declared a health emergency in Toronto, 50 miles from the U.S. border. U.S. health officials have reported 62 cases in the United States but no fatalities.

Acording to a