Could Malware Redirect Your Morning Commute?

Malware is a serious issue and not something that any of us takes lightly. However, in general, our understanding of what it can be used to achieve is mostly limited to theft of files or infecting technology and few are aware of just how far malware could be used to influence ‘real life’ too. As more and more of our daily lives are supported and controlled by technology, so the extent to which malware might be able to spread expands.

This has recently come into very sharp focus with the European Rail Traffic Management System, which is a new hi-tech railway signaling system that it is hoped will be operational in the UK by 2020. The design of the signaling system is intended to make train travel safer, however, comments from academics have indicated that – as it’s a digital system – it could well be vulnerable to a cyber attack.

Professor David Stupples, who is a government adviser, recently gave an interview to the BBC about the new signaling system in which he said that there was a threat of hacking with the system, something that could very easily be exploited by terrorists and used to cause a serious accident. He said, “It’s the clever malware that actually alters the way the train will respond. So, it will perhaps tell the system the train is slowing down, when it’s speeding up.” During the interview with the BBC Professor Stupples said that of course the government was aware of this potential issue and that safeguards were being put in place to guard against problems such as hacking occurring, but that these safeguards could always be got around. He made the point that the potential issue could arise not as a result of the technology itself but by those involved in using it, “The weakness is getting malware into the system by employees. Either because they are dissatisfied or being bribed or coerced.”

And it’s not just on the trains that there is the potential for your morning commute to be thoroughly disrupted. We’ve all seen films in which traffic systems have been ‘hacked’ to change lights from red to green but this is much more than just a film plot – researchers have now done this in real life too. Security researchers from the University of Michigan hacked nearly 100 wireless traffic lights, concluding that all that would be required to do so was a laptop and wireless card operating on the same 5.8 gigahertz frequency as the wirelessly networked traffic lights. They could then alter the traffic signals as and when they liked.

We live in a technology fuelled world where every new advance also opens up fresh vulnerabilities. Make sure your back is covered with managed security services and network monitoring to safeguard your business.