Monday, January 4, 2021

Debate Emerges On How To Secure Communication Networks

Photo by the Tennessean

Days after the bombing on Christmas Day in downtown Nashville crippled cell service, internet and even key tools for law enforcement across a multi-state region, White County, Tennessee residents still struggled to get through to the county's emergency communications center, reports The Tennessean.

Though the center's landlines worked and officials pushed out a non-emergency number via social media, the rural Tennessee county's 911 Emergency Director Suzi Haston said she remained shocked their wireless services were still out after the bombing damaged an AT&T building more than 90 miles away.

Even farther away, in Alabama, the bombing forced first responders to use two-way radio and text messaging systems after the state's primary communications network for public safety workers, FirstNet, was disrupted.

Now, federal, state, and local officials are starting to demand answers from AT&T, asking how such a telecommunications nightmare happened and how to ensure it can't happen again.

The AT&T building in Nashville that suffered damage houses connection points for regional internet and wireless communications. Although authorities have not yet said what motivated the suspected bomber, the blast from an RV laden with explosives brought communications across the region, from Georgia to Kentucky, to a halt.  

It affected 911 call centers, hospitals, the Nashville airport, government offices and individual mobile users. Patients were left unable to contact pharmacies, issues with credit card devices hamstrung businesses big and small.

Similar facilities and data centers exist in cities across the nation.

As news of the bombing spread, officials in Mississippi sought to fortify key communications systems, scrambling to ensure critical infrastructure sites in the state, such as ports along the Gulf Coast and oil and gas refineries, were secure. The New York Police Department even ramped up security at communication facilities across the city. 

The Nashville bombing raises questions about potential vulnerabilities elsewhere in the United States, said Colin Clarke, a senior fellow at The Soufan Center. Beyond the big utilities, how does the nation protect these "pedestrian places" that fewer people know exist, he said.

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