By Ian Bush

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — It was a false alarm. A missile was not, in fact, screaming toward Hawaii; extinction was not imminent. Saturday’s emergency alert was blamed on human error. But hackers were no doubt taking notes about the systems that are supposed to keep us safe.

“Now it’s been advertised throughout the world what a simple process it is that has to be overcome to have a single point of failure,” said Carl Herberger with the New Jersey-based information security firm Radware.

That’s one danger of the missile mistake — now, hackers know just what they need to do to cause mass panic.

Herberger says 911 call centers and the Emergency Alert System have been targets in the past.

“In 2013, in Montana, there was a computer attack that actually advertised that aliens were coming,” he said.

But Herberger warns far more sinister strikes could come, with two factors propping open the door: first, social engineering — what he calls the weaponization of a natural breakdown in our behavior.

“Humans being what they are, they’re vulnerable of either being tricked, coerced, or maybe incented to do things they wouldn’t ordinarily do,” Herberger said.

The second piece: decades-old emergency systems in dire need of overhaul. Such investment should be a critical component of any infrastructure bill that comes out of Congress.

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