UK railway system attacks are coming from nation-states

Disturbing reports have emerged from the United Kingdom regarding their railway network, namely that numerous UK railway system attacks have occurred. As reported by The Telegraph and originally researched by British cybersecurity firm Darktrace (formerly controlled by the GCHQ), the UK rail system has faced four major cyber attacks in the past year. The attacks appeared to be more exploratory than anything, as no data was destroyed in any of the attacks.

The information gathered during these times of network penetration, however, still puts the UK railway at risk for a large-scale attack. Every attack allowed the hackers to gain a greater understanding of the sensitive points in the rail system, or as Kaspersky Labs researcher Sergey Gordeychik put it, “At the moment, drivers know not to go on busy lines because traffic lights direct them, but if somebody can change this behavior and make the lights green, trains can collide. That would cause mayhem.”

Photo credit: MaltaGC (shared under Creative Commons Attribution-Share-Alike 4.0 International)
Photo credit: MaltaGC (shared under Creative Commons Attribution-Share-Alike 4.0 International)

Security researchers have postulated that the general source of these attacks are nation-states. Gordeychik spoke on this issue as well, stating, “at the moment, we see a lot of activities from state-sponsored attackers. They believe this is a type of cyber war.” A key component to any wide scale cyberwarfare strategy is attacking key infrastructure such as energy production, food sources, and in this case, mass transit. While a spokesperson for the UK railway insisted that the country has the safest rail system in Europe, it is difficult to see this PR speech as more than just damage control.

It has been confirmed that there are measures being taken to bolster the network security of the railway. It is going to take more than simply preventing further intrusions, however, to ensure that a large cyber attack cannot occur. The entire internal structure of the UK railway needs to be overhauled in such a manner that any information gathered via these hacks will be rendered useless. The railway network must be nearly unrecognizable to its attackers so that any potentially catastrophic disruptions are harder to execute.

The UK railway is a key component to travel in that particular region of the world. One can only hope that security consultants, both governmental and private sector, can find solid solutions before a truly devastating attack occurs.



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