An 18-year-old from Arizona has been indicted after an iOS exploit he posted on Twitter caused disruption to 911 emergency systems.
Meetkumar Hiteshbhai Desai was arrested and booked in late October following an investigation of the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office Cyber Crimes Unit.
The Arizona Attorney General announced this week that the teen has been indicted on four felony counts of computer tampering. The computer tampering charges in this case constitute class 2 felonies because the 911 system is classified as critical infrastructure.
Authorities said Desai’s exploit made hang-up calls to 911 emergency services in Maricopa, Surprise, Chandler and Avondale. These agencies received over 300 calls between October 24 and October 26. Some calls were also reportedly made to emergency services in Illinois, Texas and California.
When questioned by police, Desai said a friend had provided him an exploit that could be used to trigger pop-ups, open email and activate dialing features on iOS devices. He tweaked the exploit and created several versions, including one that made calls to 911.
He claimed he wanted to post a more harmless version on Twitter to prank his followers, but mistakenly released the one that initiated calls to 911. When users clicked on the Twitter link, they were taken to a website that triggered the exploit, making calls to 911 and preventing the victim from ending the call.
Researchers determined recently that a botnet powered by only 6,000 smartphones would be enough to disrupt 911 emergency services in a U.S. state.
Desai told investigators that he was trying to find vulnerabilities that he could report to Apple for a reward.
A flaw similar to the one used by Desai’s exploit was brought to Apple’s attention by researcher Collin Mulliner back in 2008. Mulliner reported earlier this month that the old flaw apparently resurfaced. He demonstrated how the Twitter and LinkedIn iOS apps could be abused to initiate calls to arbitrary numbers while preventing the victim from ending the call.
“DoSing 911 is pretty terrible but there are other examples such as expensive 900 numbers where the attacker can actually make money. A stalker can make his victim dial his phone number so he gets his victim’s number. Altogether things you don’t want to happen,” Mulliner said.