Skip to Content
Smart cities

City emergency sirens can be hacked to sound rogue messages

A security researcher has shown that San Francisco’s warning system can be used to play any message he wants.

The news: Balint Seeber, from security firm Bastille, spent the last two years decoding the radio signals that switch on the weekly test of San Francisco’s emergency warning system. Now, reports Wired, he’s worked out how to control the system himself, and he could inject any audio he wants to be played throughout the city.

Why it matters: Imagine the panic caused by a city warning system falsely announcing, say, a nuclear strike (something that, unfortunately, isn’t much of a stretch). Plus, the hack can be performed using a laptop and $35 worth of radio equipment, and Seeber says he knows two other cities (and potentially many more) that could have their speakers, made by a firm called ATI Systems, similarly compromised.

Dumb smart cities: The attack is possible because, while individual data packets used to control the ATI warning systems may be encrypted, Seeber was still able to work out how to reproduce the overall control signals. As we’ve pointed out before, cybersecurity concerns often go neglected in the development of connected systems inside cities—and the upshot is that attacks like this are possible.

This story was updated on April 11 to explain that individual data packets in the warning system are encrypted.

Deep Dive

Smart cities

Rendering of Waterfront Toronto project
Rendering of Waterfront Toronto project

Toronto wants to kill the smart city forever

The city wants to get right what Sidewalk Labs got so wrong.

baidu worker (left) and autonomous vehicle driving on highway (right)
baidu worker (left) and autonomous vehicle driving on highway (right)

A day in the life of a Chinese robotaxi driver

We spoke to Liu Yang, who has one of the strangest jobs around: to sit in the passenger seat and monitor how self-driving cars cope with Beijing’s streets.

Terminal bi-articulated bus in Curitiba Brazil
Terminal bi-articulated bus in Curitiba Brazil

We need smarter cities, not “smart cities”

A singular focus on high-tech will dilute the vibrancy of our cities and limit their potential.

New Babylon artwork
New Babylon artwork

The smart city is a perpetually unrealized utopia

Urban technologies were meant to connect, protect, and enhance the lives of citizens. What happened?

Stay connected

Illustration by Rose WongIllustration by Rose Wong

Get the latest updates from
MIT Technology Review

Discover special offers, top stories, upcoming events, and more.

Thank you for submitting your email!

Explore more newsletters

It looks like something went wrong.

We’re having trouble saving your preferences. Try refreshing this page and updating them one more time. If you continue to get this message, reach out to us at customer-service@technologyreview.com with a list of newsletters you’d like to receive.