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Hacker hijacks police radio broadcast until cops call off car chase of armed robbers

Sep 03, 20173 mins
HackingInternet SecuritySecurity

A hacker posing as a cop hijacked a police radio broadcast and caused the police to call off a car chase of alleged armed robbery suspects.

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While the man and woman responsible for an alleged attempted armed robbery in Australia are no Bonnie and Clyde, they had something the infamous outlaw couple didn’t — a little help from a hacker.

An unknown hacker was credited with hijacking the Victoria Police emergency services radio network and impersonating an officer as he broadcast, which ultimately led to the cops calling off the chase.

Victoria Police officers were chasing an armed man who had allegedly attempted to rob a store; he and a woman ran to a stolen car and fled. Victoria Police raced after them.

During the car chase, an unknown person posing as a cop came over the police radio multiple times. The unauthorized voice reportedly interrupted so often that the real cops abandoned the chase.

According to Triple M, “It’s not known exactly what instructions were being given over the illegal broadcasts.” However, Victoria Police spokeswoman Lauren Kells said, “Throughout the incident, there were a number of disruptions during the radio transmissions which are being investigated.”

The police are now hunting for the person behind the pirate transmissions on emergency services radio. They believe they’ve narrowed down the area of the pirate transmission and asked citizens to come forward if anyone recognizes the radio hijacker’s voice.

The fact that the system was vulnerable is not new. Nevertheless, Police Minister Lisa Neville said the “appalling” act “highlighted the vulnerability of the current radio network system.”

The Australian telecommunications company Telstra had been contracted to upgrade the vulnerable radio system to a more secure digital radio system. Telstra will reportedly complete the $12 million emergency radio network system by mid-2018.

By the way, the alleged robbers didn’t get away. The cops first found the 22-year-old female suspect in a nearby town. A 21-year-old male was later arrested on the roof of a nearby shed.

Other radio hijacks

You may not hear about pirate transmissions every day, but hijacking the airwaves is not entirely uncommon.

On the day of Donald Trump’s inauguration, several small radio stations were hijacked and broadcast an anti-Trump song. Victims included Sunny 107.9 FM in Salem, South Carolina; 100.5 FM in San Angelo, Texas; El Jefe 96.7 in Murfreesboro, Tennessee; Mother of the Redeemer Radio 103.5 in Evansville, Indiana; as well as Crescent Hill Radio in Louisville, Kentucky. Radio Insight suggested radio stations using Barix STL devices or Comrex should lock down the IP address to prevent such hijackings.

Over three months this summer, an unidentified radio pirate in the U.K. hacked broadcasts 12 times to play “The Winker’s Song” — a song that most consider to be rude because it references “wanker” 36 times. Some people found it funny, but others were offended.

The managing director of Mansfield 103.2 told The Guardian, “Some people have told me that their children have started humming the song in the car.”

Radio director Tony Delahunty told the BBC, “There’s is absolutely nothing we could do about it, and we’re trying very hard to do something about it.”

Jacking a radio station is not the same as hijacking a police radio broadcast, but there’s been hacks of emergency systems in the U.S. over the last several years. The latest that comes to mind happened shortly before midnight in April when Dallas was a victim of one of the largest breaches of an emergency siren system. A hacker set off 156 tornado sirens, which blasted out warnings 12 times between 11:42 p.m. on Friday until 1:17 a.m. on Saturday.

ms smith

Ms. Smith (not her real name) is a freelance writer and programmer with a special and somewhat personal interest in IT privacy and security issues. She focuses on the unique challenges of maintaining privacy and security, both for individuals and enterprises. She has worked as a journalist and has also penned many technical papers and guides covering various technologies. Smith is herself a self-described privacy and security freak.