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Cybercrime and terrorism, the growing twin threats to rail and metro.

Posted on Jul 3, 2017

HEU awaiting secure transportation by rail (Photo courtesy of the National Nuclear Security Administration)Keeping rail and metro networks safe and secure is both a challenging and complicated proposition. Stations, control rooms, signalling systems, miles of tracks and wayside equipment, much of which is located in remote and difficult to monitor locations all present huge difficulties in maintaining security. The busiest urban stations can see hundreds of thousands of daily passengers pass through them, thronging concourses and platforms making them a very attractive target to terrorists. Sadly this threat is not hypothetical, as attacks on public transport in Russia, Belgium, India and London to name just a few in the last year have underlined this is a clear and present danger. Whilst with public transport continuing to be transformed by digital technology, the attack surface for potential damage from a cyber attack is massively increased. The broadening of on-board Wi-Fi connectivity presents new routes for threats to reach mission-critical software and urgently increases the need for enhanced security solutions. In this special feature we look at these twin threats, assess some of the real life examples of breaches and take a view on what can be done (and what can't) to try and keep our networks safe and secure.

Cybercrime

The past twelve months have seen a proliferation of cyber attacks on rail and metro including San Francisco Metro, Deutsche Bahn and China Railways. To maintain the safety of passengers and the reliability of operations, cybersecurity is now (or should be) a paramount concern for rail and metro operators. Despite hundreds of millions of people utilizing public transport every day, most countries don’t have specific regulations relating to cyber security. But rail and metro operators know that today’s threats are extremely dangerous, leading to disruption, loss of revenue or at worse a fatal crash or derailment.

Waterfall Security’s CEO and Co-founder Lior Frenkel highlights the potential of the threat: “The biggest risk to industrial networks occurs when there is a connection to an external network. In many ways, connecting rail systems to the internet is quite reckless, but delivers so many efficiencies that it’s hard to see a day when public transport won’t be connected. What is most concerning is when the mission-critical control systems are connected to the same networks used by the passengers or the business networks. Here you open up the control system to the bad guys, who needn’t even be on-board the train to find a way into the control system.” (For more from Lior - Expert view: Combating the increasingly sophisticated digital threat to rail and metro.)

Cybercrime and terrorism, the growing twin threats to rail and metro.

Further explanation comes from Daniel Jaeggi, Head of Business Development at Icomera; “The world is changing quite rapidly: cybersecurity threats are becoming extremely sophisticated and more and more systems are being connected to our on-board networks, increasing the attack footprint.”

Better engineering can only take you so far; active monitoring and second-line protection is needed to enhance network security. This can be a hard concept to fully grasp. Jaeggi continues, this assumption of fallibility is common in many other areas where security and safety are paramount: “When you board a flight, your pilot can be the best in the world, but all the safety systems and processes are designed around the idea that he or she will make mistakes or systems fail that shouldn’t. Things go wrong, that shouldn’t be a problem in itself, it’s how you deal with them and what backup you have. That’s what keeps you safe!” (For more on this area and the work RazorSecure do in this area - Expert View: Why a change is needed in rail industry thinking about cybersecurity.)

Solutions. 

There are a number of solutions available – both physical and software based but with a myriad of IT systems usually being run, some new, other legacy– every rail and metro's requirements are different. There are a couple of key truths worth considering however. 

Prevention is always be your best line of defence against cyber criminals. As with all crime, those most vulnerable get targeted first. Does your organisation have clearly defined security policies? And more importantly, do your employees understand the most common hack tactics such as phishing, baiting social engineering to name just a few? Then take the hacker’s view, look at what you have and assess what is most appealing or important – focus on these areas as these are what the bad guys will be. This type of 'threat modelling' is one of the most effective ways of ensuring security on your network.

Click here to read the digital guide - Protecting Rail and Metro From Cyber Security Threats

Terrorism. 

Terrorists see metro and passenger rail as an attractive target, offering easy access to crowds of people in confined environments where attackers face minimal security risks and where bombings, shootings, and other types of attacks can cause high casualties and significant media exposure. This has been demonstrated recently with the March 2016 bombing of the metro in Brussels, in which 13 people died; the July 2016 knife and axe attack on train passengers in Wuerzberg, Germany, in which four persons were injured; the discovery in October 2016 of an improvised explosive device on a London Underground train; the Bhopal–Ujjain Passenger train bombing in March 2017 which injured nine an explosion on a Metro train in Russian city of St Petersburg which killed 14 in April 2017 and sadly many more.

Brian Michael Jenkins, Director of the Mineta Transportation Institute’s (MTI) National Transportation Safety and Security Center (and ex-Green Beret) in a recent report highlights further the challenges: “Terrorist attacks on public transport create significant alarm — daily commuters and other passengers cannot easily avoid what they perceive as a source of danger. At the same time, it is not easy to increase security without causing inconvenience and unreasonably slower travel times, while creating vulnerable queues of people waiting to pass through security checkpoints.”

So what can be done?

Rail and metro networks vary in age, design, and usage of above and below ground tracks and infrastructure. This all makes retrofitting them to include new security technology difficult and costly.

Security screening of passengers has been an issue discussed and at times briefly implemented at some stations but unlike at the airport, the worldwide approach to train travel is to arrive just minutes before the train departs. Even if pre-travel searches were to become implemented at mainline stations, the ability to carry this out at every station along a route is essentially impossible without a massive increase in resources both financial and human. This is a non-starter realistically.

WMATA Police Cybercrime and terrorism, the growing twin threats to rail and metro.

What about gaining passenger name record (PNR) data like on airlines to identify threats before they step on-board the train? A typical flight booking covers 19 pieces of information such as travel dates, contact details, payment methods and if international passport specifics. But again, a quick thought about how passengers actually use a rail network rules this out apart from on a limited number of trains (e.g. the Eurostar). And even let’s suppose every train had to be booked this way. Would this stop people setting foot in the station? Again, no.

So, where does this leave us? It appears the answer to a safer and more secure rail and metro network is in advanced digital technology overlaid on existing infrastructure and more co-ordinated intelligence.

To give a couple of examples of the technology;  Smart CCTV, which can automatically detect irregular and suspicious movement at stations and flag up to security staff is being rolled out gradually. Using smart video, you can erect a virtual fence which can detect intruders, and automatically zoom in the camera on the alert area. Then there are smart sensors that can pick up movement (via infrared or acoustic) of trespassers on tracks or in prohibited areas. Technological advances have now ensured that thermal technology works in full sunlight as well, so making this a 24 hour security solution. Whilst improved passenger information systems can alert commuters to problems better and ensure they move to exits or safe zones in more orderly and efficient ways.

The second aspect is co-ordinated intelligence between police, intelligence, rail companies and passengers themselves, and the further widening of platforms (mobile, online) where this can be shared. A challenge that exists beyond just the realms of transport security. 

Click here to get your copy of the Transport Security and Safety Expo 2018 Brochure

In response to threats to rail and metro  SmartRail World is later this month launching Transport Security World (@TransportSecure, a news and insight platform for transport operators across all verticals (rail, road air and sea), government officials and suppliers to address current concerns, share best practice and build long-lasting business connections. As part of our community we will also be launching an event in May 2018 in Washington DC, Transport Security and Safety Expo (TSSX), click the banner right for more or contact Tim Edwards (Event Director) here


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Topics: TransportSecurity

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About the Author

Luke Upton
Luke Upton
Luke has edited this site since its launch and previously worked for b2b media companies across industries including energy, advertising and sport. His role includes writing, editing and commissioning...read more