Railway Cybersecurity: Securing Rail Operations and Assets

Industry Trends

Cyber-attack has been a major issue for global rail operators, and it has been increasing the dependency on connected technology across the organization. Rail authorities have mechanisms in place which strengthen their cybersecurity posture, but these controls often lack a programmatic approach to securing the integrated communication systems (ICS) backbone. The path to success in railway cybersecurity begins with a logical, realistic counter measures. The approach can be enriched by making profound security analysis, functional audits, or the introduction of crisis management to minimize operational, financial and technical impacts. The proper architecture of the infrastructure will help to improve resilience. After all, it is essential to integrate safety into every aspect of the solution throughout its lifecycle.

At a time when rail networks are growing and becoming increasingly automated, railway cybersecurity is at the center of development. It is imperative for railway cybersecurity technologies to keep up with evolving attacks on the digital system. While new digital railways show great potential to protect trains from collisions, improve efficiency, and transport passengers faster and cheaper, cybersecurity threats show the darker side of the modern railway.

Potential Vulnerabilities in Railway Cybersecurity

railway cybersecurityA deeper look into the security of our digital railways may expose dangerous vulnerabilities. The surge in malicious acts in the railway space can be symptomatic of the security flaws that can be evident in the rail network. It is encouraged to be prepared as attacks are inevitable.

Railway systems are vulnerable to cyber-attacks due to the transition to ‘open-platform, standardized equipment built using commercial off-the-shelf components, and increasing use of networked control and automation systems that can be accessed remotely via public and private networks.’ These cyber-attacks are potentially leading to loss of service, serious injuries, and even passenger death. The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST)  Special Publication 800-82, revision 21, lists the following cyber-threats to ICS:

  • Blocked or delayed flow of information through ICS networks, which could disrupt the rail operation
  • Unauthorized changes to instructions, commands, or alarm thresholds, could damage, disable, or shut down equipment, create environmental impacts and/or endanger human life
  • Inaccurate information sent to system operators, either to disguise unauthorized changes or to cause the operators to initiate inappropriate actions, which could have various negative effects
  • Interference with the operation of equipment protection systems, which could endanger costly and difficult-to-replace equipment
  • Interference with the operation of safety systems, which could endanger human life

The signaling systems on most of the world railways are becoming more sophisticated with wireless technology and in-cab speed permitted displays. The European Rail Traffic Management System (ERTMS) uses the European Train Control System (ETCS) to transform the way the railway system operates. The Control System acts as automatic train protection, improving the capacity, safety, and operability of the railway. Yet the digitization of the railway opens the floor to discussions about cybersecurity – namely, the new railway’s exposure to digital hackers and cyber-attacks. Increased connectedness raises the bar for the impact of a cyber-attack.

Combating Railway Cybersecurity Breaches

In the face of increasingly complex cyber operations, passengers safety and securing rail operations and assets are the top priorities. it is necessary to develop, implement and maintain the right integrated solutions, resilient networks, and value-added services to protect sensitive information at any given time. Here are some ways how rail operators’ critical infrastructure can be optimally secured:

  • A monitoring tool represents a very productive way to detect, visualize, analyze and react to threats and vulnerabilities by combining all existing IT-based systems and tools in modules on one screen.
  • Educate rail operators on the potential dangers of railway cybersecurity breaches. Spread awareness of the issue and encourage railway operators to put systems in place to detect and prevent attacks, and to mitigate losses in the event of a security breach.
  • Addresses security breaches, such as those reported by the DHS, Transportation Security Administration (TSA), the US Computer Emergency Readiness Team (US-CERT) and their Industrial Control Systems Cyber Emergency Response Team (ICS-CERT)
  • Provision of supplemental services, like cyber threat intelligence and penetration tests to Identify the ‘weak spots’ where processes and IT systems converge.

In addition, it is critical to address operational systems, including dispatch, operations control center (OCC), maintenance yards, communications and control systems, signaling, radio communications, traction power, vital systems, safety-critical systems, operationally-critical systems, CCTV, PTC, CBTC, AVL, fire and life-safety systems, and any other unusual exposures that the operation may have.

As the digital railway continues to advance and grow more sophisticated, it is imperative for railway cybersecurity technologies to keep up with evolving attacks on the digital system.

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