Hackers could hijack new digital train signalling system in the UK and cause high-speed crashes, expert warns

Britain’s new digital train signalling system could be attacked by cyber criminals, an expert has warned.

Transport Secretary Chris Grayling last week unveiled plans to install digital signalling on the line between Manchester and York to try to increase capacity and reliability.

However, a cyber security expert has warned criminals could potentially gain access to the system and interfere with signalling and train tracking.

This could cause mayhem on the UK’s rail network, and increases the risk of high-speed collisions.

Digital train signalling enables trains to run closer together and is already used on the London Underground.

But Dr Alexeis Garcia-Perez, a reader in Cyber Security Management at the University of Coventry, said the cyber security challenges ahead must be fully considered.

He said if cyber criminals tried to gain unauthorised access to location, train tracking, signalling or other rail infrastructure data from the digitally-controlled trains, it could compromise the safety of passengers, staff and the community.

‘A coherent, cross-industry strategy and a robust and realistic delivery plan are essential so that challenges associated to the use of data for the management of signalling and traffic are fully considered for the safety of railway passengers, staff and communities in general.

‘Such challenges are related not only to the required railway infrastructure but to large-scale data collection and management and the resulting cyber-security risks’, said Dr Garcia-Perez.

Mr Grayling has allocated £5 million ($6.75 million) of funding to Network Rail to develop plans for installing digital signalling on the line between Manchester and York in a bid to increase capacity and reliability.

This will come from a £450 million ($607 million) fund for digital railway development announced in the Autumn Statement last year.

‘Running digitally controlled trains is a significant milestone in the journey towards a digital railway in the UK’, said Dr Garcia-Perez.

‘It could bring substantial benefits to both passengers and the rail network.

‘A cross-industry approach to the secure capture, communication, storage and processing of railway data is important, so that the risk of intentional attempts to bypass the security controls of any railway information system by cyber criminals is minimised during the operation of digitally controlled trains.’

The Transport Secretary sparked anger in July by supporting a new £30 billion ($40 billion) Crossrail 2 scheme in London and the South East days after a series of rail electrification projects in Wales, the Midlands and the North were axed or downgraded.

But speaking in Manchester – which hosts the Conservative Party Conference from October 1 – Mr Grayling claimed he is committed to electrification where it benefits passengers.

A spokesperson from Network Rail said: ‘Britain has the safest major railway in Europe and cyber security is a key part of our plan for introducing digital train control technology.

‘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.’



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