9-1-1 DDoS: Threat, Analysis and Mitigation

Mordechai Guri, Yisroel Mirsky, Yuval Elovici
{gurim,yisroel, elovici}@post.bgu.ac.il
Ben-Gurion Univerisity of the Negev
Cyber-Security Research Center

(Full paper is here: https://arxiv.org/abs/1609.02353)

Abstract - The 911 emergency service belongs to one of the 16 critical infrastructure sectors in the United States. Distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks launched from a mobile phone botnet pose a significant threat to the availability of this vital service.
In this paper we show how attackers can exploit the cellular network protocols in order to launch an anonymized DDoS attack on 911. The current FCC regulations require that all emergency calls be immediately routed regardless of the caller’s identifiers (e.g., IMSI and IMEI). A rootkit placed within the baseband firmware of a mobile phone can mask and randomize all cellular identifiers, causing the device to have no genuine identification within the cellular network. Such anonymized phones can issue repeated emergency calls that cannot be blocked by the network or the emergency call centers, technically or legally. We explore the 911 infrastructure and discuss why it is susceptible to this kind of attack. We then implement different forms of the attack and test our implementation on a small cellular network. Finally, we simulate and analyze anonymous attacks on a model of current 911 infrastructure in order to measure the severity of their impact. We found that with less than 6K bots (or $100K hardware), attackers can block emergency services in an entire state (e.g., North Carolina) for days. We believe that this paper will assist the respective organizations, lawmakers, and security professionals in understanding the scope of this issue in order to prevent possible 911-DDoS attacks in the future.