I’m going to go out on a bit of a limb here and disclose a little bit of information about me that may leave me open to judgement and ridicule. I have to admit that I’m a bit of a train fan. Now before you start using the word ‘spotter’ and hurl all those clichés at me, let me clarify. I think that the mass transportation of people around the country, is an interesting engineering challenge and to date the train is the best solution. Admittedly the modern trains are quite luxurious, quiet, acceptable coffee and WiFi. The stations too, the new ones, the ‘destin-stations’ such as the revamped Birmingham New Street and London’s Kings Cross are delightful places to be.
Sadly though, and the train companies themselves know this they don’t always get it right and in many cases are an easy and quite legitimate target for criticism from their customers. It seems that they also now have a new tranche of issues to deal with all pertaining to cyber security.
The Telegraph ran a story recently explaining how the UK rail network was a victim of four major cyber attacks in the last 12 months. This information had been discovered by cyber security company called Darktrace, who is responsible for the defence of the network.
The details of the attacks are that nothing was disrupted and the attackers, who have yet to be traced, were just exploring the computer systems. Could this have been a reconnaissance mission? Perhaps. With the UK rail network moving over to a digital platform for signaling, then maybe the attackers were looking for exploitable flaws in these systems. The nightmare scenario is of course straight out of a disaster movie, where a rogue hacker takes control of such a huge system and changes the behaviour of trains, leading them to very literally crash. The motivation for such an attack is severe disruption, public unrest and the smashing of consumer confidence. Who may want to cause this? A rogue state? A terrorist group? Anybody who sees an attack on critical national infrastructure as beneficial.
Let me reassure you though, before you start shredding your season ticket and getting on a bike, a spokesman for Network Rail did say that cybersecurity was a “key part” in their plan to introduce digital train control technology and that “Britain has the safest major railway in Europe… safety is our top priority, which is why we work closely with government, the security services, our partners and suppliers in the rail industry and security specialists to combat cyber threats”.
It is pleasing to know that cyber security is being integrated into such future plans meaning that my trust in the rail network is still sound. Trust is a topic that is very important in cyber security, something that was discussed in ‘Cyber Insights’ this week. If companies lose trust, then it takes a long time for it to be rebuilt, just like any other form of relationship. So what if a cyber security company, one that has to win the highest levels of trust from its customers, was actual found to be hacking a rival! Sadly this is not fictitious. The company in question, Quadsys, have had five employees admit to hacking into a rival company’s servers to allegedly steal customer data and pricing information.
The report of this case on ZDNet stated that the group were originally held on suspicion of conspiracy to commit computer misuse offences, unauthorised PC access and conspiracy to acquire and use criminal property — allegedly. The owner of the company and four other colleagues all appeared at Oxford Crown Court and admitted to “obtaining unauthorised access to computer materials to facilitate the commission of an offence.”
Although the actions of this company are clearly wrong, the good news to come from this is that people who commit these crimes are going to get caught and are going to be prosecuted. In this case they could be facing 12 months in prison, or fines and the very real prospect of a totally shattered career in cyber security.
Another cyber criminal got caught this week, as reported by the BBC. A Chinese businessman, Su Bin, admitted collaborating with hackers in the Chinese military to steal sensitive military information from US defence companies between 2008 and 2014. He has been given a sentence of 4 years. The Chinese government has denied any involvement.
Why did he do this? Simple; for money. It was just for pure financial gain. It does seem that the cyber security tide is turning, we may hear a lot about threats, hacks and all manner of suspected activity but law enforcement is catching these individuals and starting to put them behind bars. It may not be perfect, but just like modern trains, bit by bit things are improving, and for right now that’s good enough for me.
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