Alarm system cyberattack leaves those in need struggling to call for help

An alarm system company that allows those in need to ask for help at the touch of a button has suffered a cyberattack, causing serious disruption.

Tunstall Netherlands says the attack left the control room struggling to receive distress calls from clients on Sunday November 12, 2023.

Tunstall, among others, provides services and systems to allow smart monitoring in various healthcare settings. One of the services provides sick or disabled persons, and the elderly with an alarm button that can be used in case of an emergency.

Under normal circumstances, the control room would relay the distress call to a caregiver so they can check on and provide help.

The alarm button systems are used in situations where people that require care are not constantly surrounded by caregivers, like care homes that provide independent living, elderly who live at home but need the ability to call for help, and people with a heightened risk of falling.

It’s unknown what the exact nature of the cyberattack is. In case of a ransomware attack, it is unlikely that any group will claim responsibility or demand a ransom. These types of services are usually the type that they want to avoid for fear of repercussions.

Estimates say that tens of thousands of people are unable to reach the control room at the press of a button and will have to call an emergency number instead.

Tunstall says it’s worked hard to remediate the situation. It has engaged a specialized cybersecurity company to investigate the situation. Meanwhile it advised clients to keep their mobile phones handy so they can reach out in case of an emergency. At the moment the first services have been brought back online and the hope is that soon everything will be fully functional again.

Some organizations that use Tunstall’s system say they have provided their clients with the direct number they would need to call when they need help. But obviously pressing a button is a lot easier when you are in distress than having to call a phone number.

How you can call without having to unlock your phone first

Having the number pre-programmed and available at the press of a button makes things a bit easier if you do need to call for help via your phone. If you have or are someone who may need immediate help and you don’t have an alarm button or it doesn’t work, there are methods to make it easier to use your phone to raise help.

iPhones provide an “Emergency” option on the lock screen. Tapping it opens an on-screen keyboard, which allows you to dial a number. The restriction with this option however, is that it is designed primarily to call emergency numbers. Another option is to use the smart assistant by saying ‘Hey Siri’, and then ask it to call one of your contacts or a phone number. 

Some Android phones offer the option to add emergency contacts. Activating Emergency SOS requires you to save at least one emergency contact to your phone. This will need to be done first. Please note that Android phones’ menus may differ from vendor to vendor and version to version.

  • Open the Settings app.
  • Scroll down and tap Safety & emergency. On some types this menu can be found in the Advanced Settings menu.
  • Tap Emergency contacts > Add contact
  • Select one or more emergency contacts from your contact list.
  • Now you can enable Emergency SOS
  • In Safety & emergency, toggle the Use Emergency SOS and set the Use Emergency SOS slider to enabled
  • Confirm the setting and select what information you want to share.
  • You will need to provide the app with the necessary permissions.

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