On Friday night, hackers took control of all the emergency sirens in the city of Dallas. The city’s warning system of 156 sirens started blaring at 11:40 p.m. Friday and continued for 40 minutes, according to the New York Times.
It shouldn’t be possible for this to happen, but it was like a scene from Ubisoft’s Watch Dogs 2 video game, which debuted in December and raised awareness about how it will be possible to hack “smart cities” and the Internet of Things — or making everyday objects smart and connected.
In Dallas, the alarms caused a panic, waking up residents and flooding 911 with thousands of calls from people worried about an attack. Officials declined to describe the nature of the breach, citing security reasons, except to note that it originated locally.
“Every time we thought we had turned it off, the sirens would sound again because whoever was hacking us was continuously hacking us,” said Sana Syed, a spokesperson for the city. In 2013, Iranian hackers tried to gain control of a dam in New York using a cyberattack.
This kind of hack is a routine event in Watch Dogs 2, which replicates the terrain of San Francisco and chronicles the struggle between a giant tech company and a “hacktivist” group, which hacks into the company’s smart city infrastructure. The creators of Watch Dogs 2 modeled the fictional game after the real world.
While security experts have said that the attacks in Watch Dogs 2 are plausible, the game tends to make it look a little too easy. Steve Grobman, chief technology officer at McAfee, said at a recent dinner that it isn’t quite possible yet to do these kinds of sophisticated attacks by pressing a button on a smartphone. But give it time.
In the game, there isn’t a scene where you hack the emergency siren system. But you can hack alarms all of the time to distract people from your mission. And you can routinely break into government buildings, data centers, security cameras, social media, and voting machines.
It so happens that two of the real-world backstory scouts for Watch Dogs 2, Thomas Geffroyd of Ubisoft and journalist Violet Blue, are speaking at our upcoming GamesBeat Summit 2017 event taking place May 1–2 in Berkeley. Their talk is entitled “Behind the headlines: Real world hacking and Watch Dogs 2.”
Another big topic in Watch Dogs 2 was how tech companies were selling or otherwise using our personal data to benefit themselves. That’s pretty reminiscent of another article in the Wall Street Journal today.