Computer glitch in $1.4 million prison security system could be to blame as cell doors fly open

A “glitch” in a $1.4 million [£900,000] prison security system could be behind an error that opened the doors of a Florida jail simultaneously and allowed gang members to attack each other.

A problem with the newly upgraded system, manufactured by Alabama firm Black Creek Integrated Systems, is one of a number of theories being banded around by prison officials after the doors of a maximum security wing were erroneously opened for the second time in as many months on 14 June.

The Turner Guilford Knight Correctional Center in Miami, Florida, has a “group release” button on its computerised system that, when triggered, can open all of the cell doors. Investigators are now trying to ascertain if it was a computer problem or whether a human, either internally or externally, activated it.

Recently released video footage may throw a blanket over the “glitch” story as it suggests someone opened the doors intentionally with the footage also, according to The Miami Herald, showing that prisoners knew in advance the doors would be opened.

Miami-Dade Corrections director Tim Ryan called the incident “suspicious” and stated that they are looking at whether officers played any role in the attack.

This isn’t the first time doors of the high-security wing have been opened and comes after an incident on 20 May saw the feature “mysteriously activated”. Officers strongly insisted they hadn’t activated the doors on that occasion and it prompted technicians to install a new feature that introduced a prompt asking a user to confirm they wanted to activate a “group release”.

It didn’t stop the doors opening on 13 June and The Miami Herald quotes prison officers as stating the “control panel lighting stopped” at the moment the doors creaked open.

This, combined with the fact the prisoners seemed to know the doors were going to open, brings the issue of hacking into focus and Ryan, speaking to Wired.com, seemed to suggest an operator error, which is being blamed for the incident, was triggered by an unknown cause.

"The software in the computer has only one kind of thing, operator error, and we don't know what triggers that, so part of the inquiry is to find out what the software is saying,” Ryan stated.

Teague Newman, a security researcher, added that, although the systems seem properly segmented and aren’t directly accessible from the internet, anyone with access to a computer on the network could potentially launch an attack.

Ryan has stated his team of investigators will be looking at hacking alongside the other possible causes of the attack with results likely to take some months to be revealed.

Image Credit: Flickr (Melody Kramer)