4 cyberattacks in 1 year make British rail network potential commuter deathtrap

© Ben Stansall
Britain’s railway network is notoriously overpriced, overcrowded, and experiences frequent delays. Now cyberattacks are threatening to turn the morning commute into a deathtrap as well.

The world’s oldest railway system has been the victim of four major cyberattacks in the past year alone, security experts claim.

Hackers, thought to be computer specialists working for foreign governments, are believed to be behind the online aggression, which could allow them to take control the railway’s physical infrastructure.

Security experts have warned that a new signaling system due to be brought in by Network Rail could be infiltrated, leading to a serious train crash.

The new computerized system replaces traditional light-based signals with digital readouts inside train cabs.

Most of the UK’s rail network is still based on analogue technology, which is resistant to cyberattack. However, Network Rail is gradually bringing in digital systems that could expose the network to new risks.

Security firm Darktrace discovered the four major cyberattacks. The hackers were said to be probing the railway system for weaknesses, rather than trying to disrupt it. Their activities suggest that they were scoping out the rail network for potential attacks in the future.

In an era of imperfect defenses and increasingly complex networks, determined threats can always get in,” Darktrace technology director Dave Palmer said.

Today, all businesses can be affected, regardless of size or sector.

Network Rail insisted that safety and security are a “top priority.”

The organization will begin replacing analogue train signals with the European Rail Traffic Management System, which uses wireless technology to control the speed of trains, from 2018.

Britain has the safest major railway in Europe... safety is our top priority, which is why we work closely with government, the security services, our partners and suppliers in the rail industry and security specialists to combat cyber threats,” a spokesperson for Network Rail said.

Digital in-cab signaling is used safely and effectively by dozens of countries in Europe and around the world and is similar to technology already in use on the Tube and other metro systems in this country.”