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Feds Confirm Cyberattack Caused Nation’s Critical Suicide Helpline Outage

Federal officials have confirmed that a cyberattack caused a nearly day-long outage of the United States’s 988 mental health helpline on December 1st, 2020. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) revealed that the attack occurred on the network of Intrado, the company that provides telecommunications services for the helpline. Details of who launched the attack and what kind of cyberattack occurred were not disclosed. Intrado is currently working with a third-party assessor to investigate the incident, and law enforcement agencies have been notified of the breach.

A critical lifeline: The national 988 phone number, which can be reached by text, chat or voice calling, has become a lifeline for millions of Americans seeking help during a mental crisis. On the day of the attack, those who tried to reach the line for help with suicidal or depressive thoughts were instead greeted with a message that said the line was “experiencing a service outage.” Text and chat services, however, remained available to those who needed help.

It is also worth noting that approximately 82% of Fortune 500 companies are serviced by Intrado, according to the company, which handles around 20 billion telephony minutes each year.

Calling for better coordination: The Federal Communications Commission said in December it was investigating the outage. Last week, Democrat Rep. Tony C├írdenas and Republican Rep. Jay Obernolte, both of California, introduced a bill calling for better coordination and reporting around cyberattacks on the 988 system. Obernolte said in a press release introducing the bill that “even a few hours’ outage of the national suicide hotline can cost American lives” and that it is “critical that we mitigate the risks of future disruptions to the service and take steps to resolve cybersecurity vulnerabilities that could put the hotline at risk.”

The 988 mental health helpline, launched in July 2020, has been a lifeline for millions of Americans during the pandemic. In light of the cyberattack, federal officials and lawmakers are now calling for more preventative measures to be taken to mitigate the risks of future disruptions to the service.

By CircleID Reporter

CircleID’s internal staff reporting on news tips and developing stories. Do you have information the professional Internet community should be aware of? Contact us.

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