What would be the consequences of a cyberattack on the railway sector?

The impact of a cyberattack on this sector could be, among others, an impact on its infrastructures that could cause physical damage, economic loss, reputational damage, damage to the environment, the Administration, people and society due to the termination of transport services, for example.
28 Oct 2021
2 Minutes of reading
  • Terrorist groups, state-sponsored groups, criminals interested in economic fraud, criminal organizations and citizens aware of the damage they can cause to an organization or to society as a whole by affecting essential services may be interested in attacking this type of infrastructure.
  • This information is taken from a study on cybersecurity in the railway sector carried out by S2 Grupo.

October 28, 2021.- S2 Grupo, a company specialized in cybersecurity and critical systems management, carried out a study on the cybersecurity of the railway sector, from which it is clear that one of the consequences of a cyber-attack on the sector could affect its OT (operations technology) systems.

Along with the new capabilities and benefits granted by the introduction of information and communication technologies in the railway sector, new security threats have appeared to the industrial control systems (ICS) essential for their operation.

In all the processes that make up the railway transport system, from the operation of the railway infrastructure, the operation of vehicles for the transport of people or goods, or the construction of railway material itself, new technologies have been introduced to work more efficiently. And along with this, inevitably, the risks of becoming victims of cybercrime have increased”, explained José Rosell, managing partner of S2 Grupo.

OT systems in the railway sector have become a very desirable target for cyber attackers as they are critical elements. This means that if they are affected, operations can be interrupted, damaging the continuity of an essential service such as transportation”, stated Miguel Ángel Juan, managing partner of S2 Grupo.

Among those who may be interested in attacking this type of infrastructure are not only terrorist groups or state-sponsored groups, but also criminals interested in economic fraud. Criminal organizations, criminals from all over the world and even many citizens are aware of the weaknesses in ICS and the damage they can cause to an organization or to society as a whole by affecting essential services”, added Miguel A. Juan.

Technology and cyber risks in the railway sector

In the railway sector, new elements have been introduced for remote connection with vehicles for telemetry, maintenance and fleet management tasks, or the introduction of in-vehicle passenger entertainment systems, among others.

All this means that a vehicle is continuously communicating with the outside world, exchanging information with other components of the transportation system; which together with the complexity associated with the coordination of multiple participants (component manufacturers, constructors, operators, infrastructure managers ...), introduces new risks.

Some of these cybersecurity problems in the railway sector are:

  1. Lack of security in systems design - S2 Grupo has insisted that the cybersecurity of systems should be considered with an integrated IT/OT vision from the design phase. This allows for better results in protecting them and significantly reducing costs. When security measures are implemented a posteriori, their effectiveness is limited.
  2. The publication in Social Networks and other online environments of the description of certain infrastructure or railway vehicles that may contain sensitive information and, therefore, expose them to cybercriminals.
  3. The elimination of the equipment to be replaced must be done in a secure manner, because it could also contain sensitive information as in the case of the memories.
  4. The continuous connection of vehicles with the outside world.
  5. The use of operating systems such as Windows in their ICS and the poor segmentation of their IT and OY networks.

S2 Grupo has pointed out that some of the consequences of a cyberattack on the infrastructures that make up the railway sector could lead to physical damage, be it a direct impact on the users of the railway systems or damage to the infrastructures with an indirect impact on the population (loss of essential services). For this reason, the transport sector is considered a strategic sector by the Critical Infrastructure Protection Act (LPIC).

Other consequences could cause damage to companies in the form of economic losses, reputational damage, damage to the environment, to the Administration, to people, affect the route of a vehicle leading to a railway accident, and damage to society due to lack of essential services.


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