Home > Hacking, Security Breaches > How To Say “Whoops! We Need To Rethink Our Train System’s Control Plane” In Polish…

How To Say “Whoops! We Need To Rethink Our Train System’s Control Plane” In Polish…

TrainwreckMy dear friend Murray (sorry if that expression of warmth comes as a surprise, Murr…) sent me this story from the Register:

Polish teen derails tram after hacking train network

A Polish teenager allegedly turned the tram system in the city of
Lodz into his own personal train set, triggering chaos and derailing
four vehicles in the process. Twelve people were injured in one of the

The 14-year-old modified a TV remote control so that it could be used to change track points, The Telegraph
reports. Local police said the youngster trespassed in tram depots to
gather information needed to build the device. The teenager told police
that he modified track setting for a prank.

"He studied the trams and the tracks for a long time and then built
a device that looked like a TV remote control and used it to manoeuvre
the trams and the tracks," said Miroslaw Micor, a spokesman for Lodz

"He had converted the television control into a device capable of
controlling all the junctions on the line and wrote in the pages of a
school exercise book where the best junctions were to move trams around
and what signals to change.

"He treated it like any other schoolboy might a giant train set, but
it was lucky nobody was killed. Four trams were derailed, and others
had to make emergency stops that left passengers hurt. He clearly did
not think about the consequences of his actions," Micor added.

Transport command and control systems are commonly designed by
engineers with little exposure or knowledge about security using
commodity electronics and a little native wit. The apparent ease with
which Lodz’s tram network was hacked, even by these low standards, is
still a bit of an eye opener.

Problems with the signalling system on Lodz’s tram network became
apparent on Tuesday when a driver attempting to steer his vehicle to
the right was involuntarily taken to the left. As a result the rear
wagon of the train jumped the rails and collided with another passing
tram. Transport staff immediately suspected outside interference.

The youth, described by his teachers as an electronics buff and
exemplary student, faces charges at a special juvenile court of
endangering public safety. ®

Yes, yes.  I know, it’s not a SCADA system…as fun as that would be to bring up again, I don’t need any death threats, so I won’t mention it…directly.  But if you read about the recent security design debacle of the Boeing 787 Dreamliner and then look at this, it doesn’t take much of a logic jump to see why we should be worried about how command/control systems are implemented.

My next piece of chicanery is to steal one of Mogull’s Wii Guitar Hero controllers, hack it, and cause it to electrocute his cat every time he hits C# on Stairway to Heaven…


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  1. January 11th, 2008 at 11:17 | #1

    O kurwa! Potrzebujemy jescie ras pomyśleć o naszej system co kontroluje nasze pociągi.

  2. January 20th, 2008 at 13:50 | #2

    "a driver attempting to steer his vehicle to the right was involuntarily taken to the left"…how do you "steer" a train? Normally, rail switches are operated by the Train Dispatcher or by an automated system, not by train crew.
    Maybe in this system, the driver has an RF link for controlling the switches…which would have created the security hole unless the link is encrypted.

  3. January 20th, 2008 at 15:02 | #3

    I'm tempted to make a Polish joke, but I'm sure I'd offend someone…
    Sorry in advance for even implying it. 😉

  4. August 20th, 2008 at 03:19 | #4

    Excellent post, it's amazing how much technology controls everyday transport and if the security is breached, what can happen! Did the dead mans handle not work?

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