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A cyber attack caused the abrupt outage of an American mental health helpline which lasted nearly a whole day, rendering the 988 lifeline unavailable.
The attack occurred on the network for Intrado, the company that provides telecommunications services for the helpline. The agency did not disclose details about who it believes launched the attack or what kind of cyberattack occurred. Intrado is working with a third-party assessor to investigate the incident and law enforcement agencies have been notified of the breach, Danielle Bennett, a spokeswoman for the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, said during the official statement.
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, with millions of calls pouring in during the first six months since its launch in July. The system is designed to work similarly to 911 — it’s a universal, easy-to-remember number that people can call in an emergency to reach a human who is working around the clock in a local call center.
“Even a few hours’ outage of the national suicide hotline can cost American lives,” said Republican representative Jay Obernolte in a press release introducing a new bill calling for better coordination and reporting around cyber-attacks. “It’s 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.”
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