Understanding unusual cybersecurity threats on modern railways

Jas Deol, 29 January 2020

Seems a bit far fetched to think of why a railway operator maybe the target of a Cybersecurity attack, however major railway operators across the globe have already been targeted and if the latest high profile Cyber-attacks such as money transfer service Travelex and car parts manufacturer Gedia are anything to go by - no organisation is safe from hackers.

The main concern for Cybersecurity threats are usually with a company’s IT systems and software, however the entry point of an attack can often be from an innocuous end point device such as a laptop, aged server, printer or even something like an air conditioning unit!

Two computer chip hardware vulnerabilities called Meltdown and Spectre were discovered in late 2018. This discovery revealed that virtually every computer chip manufactured since 2000 was vulnerable to a side-channel attack.

All modern railways use computer systems to monitor and manage the physical machinery (operational technology) of railways operation. These operational technologies (OT) converge with the IT networks, where they can easily be infected with malware. For most railways, cyber security consists mainly of commercial security products like simple firewalls and other government-approved antivirus tools. This is similar to the cybersecurity mechanisms in place at most small or medium-sized businesses, that are not critical to national security. This type of security may be adequate for some sectors, but it is nowhere near enough to keep a highly targeted critical national transportation infrastructure protected from those who wish to do it harm.

What systems could be vulnerable to attack:

  • Smart building management systems
  • CCTV
  • Lighting
  • Digital signage and AV
  • AC systems
  • Mechanical systems
  • Signalling systems
  • Train Controlling systems
  • Communication systems

It can seem to appear a mammoth task to upgrade and ensure that all IT systems are protected with the latest Cybersecurity solution, especially in an industry like the railway, where several legacy IT systems are still used for key processes. However, a Security Audit from Right Digital Solutions can aid an organisation by providing a comprehensive report that details any immediate threats or gaps in the current security policy. Recommendations on how to reduce risk and improve compliance, as well as a detailed report on each risk identified and detailed recommendations on mitigation, including custom recommended roll-out timeline.

About the author

Jas Deol Enterprise Account Director

Jas Deol
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