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Railway hack exposed

Marc Sanchez Dec 29, 2011

The Chaos Communication Conference is going on in Berlin right now, and that’s where professor Stefan Katzenbeisser presented his findings showing vulnerability to rail systems. Katzenbeisser, who teaches at Technische Universität Darmstadt in Germany, said there’s no risk to trains crashing, but the potential for long delays is real. His report is focused on rail systems in Europe, where the potential hack takes advantage of the way different rail companies talk to each other about where there trains are. To log into this system, operators use an encryption key, usually loaded onto something like a USB stick. If a hacker were to get his nefarious little hands on one of these encryption keys, he could launch a denial-of-service attack and shut down the system.

Katzenbeisser says this kind of disruption isn’t too likely, but it could happen. So what’s the takeaway here? It’s a variation on a theme we’ve been talking about all year: pretty much anything with a light emitting diode attached to it is hackable. Be aware and be careful. And, of course, don’t balance that transistor radio precariously on the rim of the bath tub.

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