GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — A team of researchers at Michigan State University received a $1.2 million National Science Foundation grant to improve the security of cellular 911 calls.

The grant was given based on research by professors Guan-Hua “Scott” Tu and Li Xiao with MSU’s Department of Computer Science and Engineering. It showed 911 calls from cell phones were susceptible to cyberattacks that had the ability to disconnect legitimate emergency calls, let attackers steal cell services and spam customers.

“It really surprised me when we found out an attacker can cause a legitimate 911 call to be denied or disconnected,” Xiao said. “However, we are in a computing-centric time and all human activities are supported by wired and wireless networks and data centers. I expect that more security loopholes will be discovered as digital infrastructure in society continues to grow and advance.”

With the grant money, researchers say they will expand their work to make 911 calls more secure. MSU researchers will lead work with Purdue University in identifying and remediating security loopholes.