Dallas Police Investigate Hundreds of Hours of Aerial Surveillance Video Hacked


An activist group said they received hundreds of hours of aerial surveillance footage from the Dallas Police Department, mostly from an anonymous hacker claiming to target law enforcement data in unsecured cloud storage.

The data breach is the latest incident to raise concerns about the security of the city’s electronic police information after a former computer scientist deleted millions of evidence files earlier this year.

Distributed Denial of Secrets, which describes itself as a non-profit transparency collective, posted more than 600 hours, or nearly 2 terabytes, of footage of police helicopters and drones on its website on Friday. Emma Best, co-founder, confirmed The morning news from Dallas this week that the videos were from the Dallas Police Department and the Georgia State Patrol.

The story was first reported by Wired.

Best said his group does not know the identity of the person who submitted the images and has not received any reason why the two departments have been targeted. Distributed Denial of Secrets recently shared leaked documents with reporters allegedly from the Oath Keepers, a far-right paramilitary group, which showed its members included police officers from across the country. The Oath Keepers have been linked to the January 6 riot on the United States Capitol, and at least a dozen members of the group have been charged in connection with the attack.

Master Corporal Melinda Gutierrez, a spokeswoman for the Dallas Police Department, said an investigation is underway to determine how the aerial images were obtained.

“The department cannot confirm at this time how much video information was violated,” she said. “It is important to note that this video data has not been lost and is not missing either.”

She declined to comment further until the city’s investigation was completed.

Bill Zielinski, the Dallas chief information officer who oversees the city’s department of information and technology services, did not respond to a request for comment.

Axon, the company that stores images from body cameras and police drones, said it was aware of the incident but said the breach did not involve his company.

CNC Technologies, the California-based company the city contracts with to install digital recording systems on DPD’s two helicopters and provide cloud-based video storage, did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Tuesday.

City council is expected to be briefed behind closed doors on Wednesday of possible legal and security issues related to the incident. The news hasn’t fully reviewed the footage yet.

Data protection

A 33-second video clip posted on Twitter by an online outlet reporter Daily point shows aerial video, including infrared, sweeping over a crowded fairground. The clip is dated February 2, 2019, although there is no record of a big event at the South Dallas site that day.

The allegedly hacked images come after a city IT worker deleted more than 8 million photos, videos, audio and other police archive material at the end of March. The employee, who was laid off in August, erased the files when he was supposed to move the data from cloud storage to a server in the city.

A report released by IT in September criticized the former employee for failing to follow instructions from Commvault, the software company the city contracted to manage cloud storage with. The report also criticized the employee for moving the files and ignoring warnings that they were being deleted. The report also noted that the city does not have clear rules on how to store data, and that the department’s poor policies, planning, and oversight were among the issues that also led to files being erased. .

Scott Belshaw, associate professor of criminal justice at the University of North Texas, said the idea of ​​Dallas police data being hacked was worrying and a symptom of 21st century problems.

“People take cybersecurity for granted, but its absence can do as much damage as physically injuring another person,” said Belshaw, who is also the director of the UNT Cybercrime Lab.

He said the incident, coupled with the lost police files, shows the city needs to step up its protection of police data.

“It’s going to take a while to close all of these holes,” Belshaw said. “But what’s horrible is that new holes are going to pop up all the time, especially in such a big city.”

Helicopter unit

The Police Department has had a helicopter unit since 1969 and has used drones since 2005. They are used to help officers cover large public events or find people who pose a risk to the public or the police.

In 2018 and again in September, city council approved two contracts with CNC Technologies worth a combined $ 4.1 million for services, including equipping the city’s police helicopters with cameras and a mapping system as well as for video cloud storage. A grant from the US Department of Homeland Security covers $ 2 million and nearly $ 1.6 million came from money seized in federal affairs.

During a council briefing Monday on the department’s use of drones, Police Sgt. Ross Stinson said the department has five FAA certified pilots and federal guidelines do not allow them to fly the devices out of their line of sight.

Helicopters are used when there is a need to analyze a large area or high risk cases, such as an armed suspect hiding from officers in a wooded area or abandoned building.

Stinson said drones are not being used to help establish a probable cause of arrest or mass surveillance. They also cannot be flown directly over people or more than 400 feet.

State law allows video recording with unmanned aircraft only during warrant-active police searches, criminal offenses when they occur, and under life or death circumstances. Stinson said natural disasters, investigations involving armed suspects and search and rescue incidents were among the circumstances approved by the Dallas police.

City policy states that all video collected via police vehicles or body worn cameras must be retained for at least 90 days, according to state law.

The ministry’s records retention schedule does not specifically mention images of helicopters and drones.



John C. Dent

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