Cyber Security on the Rails – Keeping Trains Safe from Hackers


Defense against cyber threats of critical infrastructure is now a very significant part of national security, since enemy nations can use ransomware or other types of threats to hack into important networks that are used for purposes like transportation. The dramatic increase in such threats against rail systems has led to a rise of concern among cybersecurity experts.

An Israeli start-up, Cylus, helps mainline and urban railway companies avoid safety incidents and service disruptions caused by cyber-attacks. The company is led by veterans from the technological unit of the Israel Defense Forces’ Intelligence Corps, together with executives from the railway industry and it’s team combines expertise in both cybersecurity and railway technology.

Cyber threats to rail systems are not entirely brand new. According to security experts, in the last several years, North Korea has reportedly tried to hack South Korea’s rail transit systems and similarly, ransomware has been used to shutdown metro operations in Germany and San Francisco. Rail systems can be vulnerable in the operations of the tracks which involve a complicated process, the ticketing systems could also be targeted or the safety features of the train can be compromised.

A hacker gaining access to a signaling system could spell disaster for everyone involved. Cylus makes software products in two areas: signaling systems and monitoring for traffic control devices that run alongside tracks, along with actual systems on trains, including operational and climate control systems. These could help prevent cyber-attacks from burgeoning, keep commuters safe and also ensure train systems and networks are protected.

Since many rail systems are now using new technology it is easier for hackers to gain access to networks, as the security features remain outdated, some experts have said.

“New technologies such as control systems, remote monitoring, remote maintenance, passenger Wi-Fi and other digital technologies and services are making rail systems increasingly vulnerable to potential cyber threats, exposing safety-critical assets to malicious hacks,” Amir Levintal, Chief Executive Officer of rail cybersecurity company Cylus said.

These attacks could have the potential to threaten passenger safety, disrupt service, and cause severe economic and reputational damage. As a result of this increased connectivity and the fact that the rail industry is a high-quality target, it’s not surprising that there have been several reported cyber-attacks on trains and subways around the world, He added.

Cylus makes cybersecurity products for signaling systems and monitoring for other traffic-control devices that run alongside tracks, as well as systems meant for rider comfort, like heating and air-conditioning. The company values the rail cybersecurity market at about $6 billion, with projected growth to hit $12 billion in 2027.

In the world of train cybersecurity even the smallest compromise could have dire consequences. Experts have stated that without security at an industrial level there is no assurance of safety or reliability. Preventing catastrophic scenarios like collisions and derailments would be the top priority of cybersecurity experts.

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Cylus is not the only player in the rail cybersecurity arena. Israeli defense technology company Rafael Advanced Defense Systems is also working towards advancements in this sphere. According to media reports, Rafael has constructed a Cyber Security Operations Center (CSOC) for Israel Railways to help the organization deal with the more than 10 million monthly cyberattack attempts aimed at gathering critical intelligence and other forms of hacking against the train’s subsystems.

Israel Railways is considered critical infrastructure because of the damage that can be caused to the country through it. The first goal is to safeguard human lives and create a situation in which it will be very hard to harm lives, Michael Arov, cyber technology product line manager at Rafael told journalists.

The critical control panels systems, the power supply, the train doors and most importantly the signaling system all require close monitoring and defense, he added. The train system’s CSOC provides a constant overview and will sound a real-time alert when something suspicious takes place.

The CSOC draws attention to problems as they are detected. Operators can then manage the risks and make safety decisions based upon the available facts and data.

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