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April 23, 2015

UK rail network’s new signalling system could be hacked, says scientist

The new signalling system aimed to upgrade the UK's rail network could be exposed to cyber attack, resulting in a serious train crash, according to a leading scientist.

By Samseer M

The new signalling system aimed to upgrade the UK’s rail network could be exposed to cyber attack, resulting in a serious train crash, according to a leading scientist.

UK rail infrastructure operator Network Rail is currently testing the European Rail Traffic Management System (ERTMS) on the country’s network.

According to professor David Stupples, who has previously advised the government, the effort to replace old signal lights with new computers could leave the rail network exposed to malicious software or malware, BBC News reported.

"We know that the risk of a cyber-attack will increase as we continue to roll out digital technology across the network."

The new signalling system is expected to start serving some of the UK’s busy intercity routes by the 2020s.

Stupples was quoted by the news agency as saying: "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."

"Governments aren’t complacent. Certain ministers know this is absolutely possible and they are worried about it. Safeguards are going in, in secret, but it’s always possible to get around them."

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The professor added that the system is well protected against outside attack, but it is possible that the danger could come from an insider.

Meanwhile, Network Rail has acknowledged the threat, the news agency reported.

A spokesman was quoted as saying: "We know that the risk of a cyber-attack will increase as we continue to roll out digital technology across the network.

"We work closely with government, the security services, our partners and suppliers in the rail industry and external cybersecurity specialists to understand the threat to our systems and make sure we have the right controls in place."

The ERTMS is currently used in various rail networks across the world. According to BBC, there are no reported cases of it being affected by cyber-attacks.

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