Chicago Police Scanner Jammed by Hackers Amid Riots

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An investigation has been launched after hackers gained access to the emergency radio system used by the Chicago Police Department over the weekend. 

As officers worked hard to keep the peace amid riots and looting triggered by the death of George Floyd, hackers jammed their radio comms with slogans and music, endangering the safety of the public and those out protesting peacefully and lawfully. 

While reports of gun violence were called in, police scanners were blocked with N.W.A.'s '80s hip-hop track "F*** the Police" and Tay Zonday's "Chocolate Rain," which alludes heavily to institutional racism in the United States. 

Dispatchers struggled to communicate with police to determine where fires had broken out and find out where ambulances needed to be sent. 

“They’re not letting me copy you at all,” a frustrated dispatcher told one officer seeking assistance on Sunday night.

“It’s a very dangerous thing that they’re doing,” said Dan Casey, deputy director of public safety information technology in the Office of Emergency Management and Communications.

Casey told the Chicago Sun Times that recordings of the rogue transmissions have been passed on to local and federal authorities, who will investigate.

On Sunday a video was posted on YouTube in which two men laugh as music is played over a scanner on a Chicago police frequency while an officer attempts to radio for support. The video has attracted over 189,000 views. 

The Chicago police department has some encrypted radio frequencies, but most patrol officers use radios that aren’t capable of withstanding hacking.

“We are looking at a multiyear plan to secure the radio channels,” said Casey.

However, Casey said that some frequencies will remain unencrypted to allow other law enforcement agencies to communicate with the Chicago Police Department.

Disrupting police radio, an act known as “jamming,” is illegal and can incur a hefty custodial sentence. In 2018, the US Supreme Court upheld an eight-year prison sentence for Rajib Mitra, who jammed police radio frequencies in Madison, Wisconsin, around Halloween in 2003.

In 2011, Mitra was sentenced to a further 6.5 years behind bars for possession of child sexual abuse material. Files depicting the abuse were seized from Mitra's home computer during the initial 2003 radio jamming investigation but were so heavily encrypted that it took police years to decipher them.

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