Experts sounding the alarm on text message alert system
Wireless service providers are now introducing technology that will send users a text message in the event of an amber alert, weather event or terrorist attack, but some experts say there’s not enough awareness about the initiative.
Questions are being raised about the recent upgrade to Canada’s public alert system after Bell customers in New Brunswick received an alert.
“As of April 6, compatible devices will receive emergency alerts from the government alert ready service,” read the message. “Alerts notify you of possible life threatening situations that need immediate attention.”
Geoffrey Downey is a spokesperson for NB EMO. He says ready alert has been around for many years.
“New Brunswickers are already familiar with it through television or radio alerts, now it’s moving into the wireless sector,” Downey says.
It’s a national initiative Canadians can't opt out of it. Similar systems have already been put into place in other countries like the United States. A false alert about a missile attack in Hawaii took made global headlines in January.
"A missile may impact on land or sea within minutes… this is not a drill,” said the alert.
Terrified, people sought cover in basements and even under manholes. Officials say the panic was triggered by a simple human error when an employee mistakenly clicked the wrong option on a drop-down screen.
New Brunswick EMO says all levels of government are working on best practices to ensure similar events don't happen in the region.
“There's multi-level authentication that has to go on... this isn't a case where one person say in one municipality all of a sudden is sending out alerts, there are measures in place to make sure a number of people are checking a message before sending it out so we can avoid potential situations like Hawaii,” Downey says.
Some cyber security experts argue there hasn't been enough awareness about the initiative and the emergency alerts may catch Canadians by surprise in the case of a life threatening situation.
Cyber security expert David Shipley says it’s easy to mistake real alerts for fake text messages.
“The other part is smart phones, it’s easy to spoof the look of these things so you know are we opening up to ourselves to someone down the road with someone sending fake texts and fake messages that look like this.”
The CRTC gave wireless providers a year to implement the system with a deadline of April 6.
Canadians will still receive alert ready messages via television and radio, but New Brunswickers will receive another mobile test alert May 9.
Experts encourage Canadians to go to alertready.com to see if your phone is compatible with the alert system.
With files from CTV Atlantic’s Mary Cranston.