Hackers claim train systems open to attack
Russian hackers claim European trains are vulnerable to hijacking and derailment attacks iStock

A group of Russian hackers have exposed gaping holes in computer systems that control train networks across Europe, claiming its vulnerabilities could lead to attackers causing devastating derailments or hijacking.

Bugs in outdated systems, and human programming errors, have been identified as alarming weak points by a trio of industrial control specialist hackers, who say other hackers could exploit things such as control braking systems – or could even hijack a train.

The Register explains overlooked bugs in device drivers can be exploited by clever hackers: "If somebody can attack the modem, the modem can attack the automatic train control system, and they can control the train," said Sergey Gordeychik, who helped discover the flaw.

Along with Gordeychik, Aleksandr Timorin, and Gleb Gritsai were integral to the discovery and also frustrated over simple vulnerabilities as a result of decades-old control systems. They unveiled their findings at the December Chaos Communications Congress in Hamburg in the hope vendors will fix it. However, they did not share any explicit details on vulnerabilities or rail vendor names and which countries they operate in over fear it would allow encourage attacks.

Mind the hack

Should hackers be able to infiltrate the antiquated operator's control system they may struggle to use it anyway as some require special training, but the article explains there is plenty of documentation that can be found online to allow hackers to access programmable logic controllers and servers.

With many rail operators using a connected system of trains, ticket systems and stations it poses a high-risk threat to safety as well as untold chaos that could follow should this be exploited by malicious hackers.

"The first threat is to safety, or cyber-physical ... the second is economic threats to impact efficiency and revenue, and the third is threats reliability," said Gordeychik.

The three hackers have released their findings to vulnerable vendors to force them to not use easily cracked hard-coded or default passwords to their systems. They say operators, who still remain nameless, are now aware of the worrying weaknesses and are working to fix the issues.