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Transportation Government Security

Hackers Manipulated Railway Computers, TSA Memo Says 116

Posted by Soulskill
from the so-nobody-was-affected dept.
An anonymous reader sends this excerpt from Nextgov: "Hackers, possibly from abroad, executed an attack on a Northwest rail company's computers that disrupted railway signals for two days in December, according to a government memo recapping outreach with the transportation sector during the emergency. ... While government and critical industry sectors have made strides in sharing threat intelligence, less attention has been paid to translating those analyses into usable information for the people in the trenches, who are running the subways, highways and other transit systems, some former federal officials say. The recent TSA outreach was unique in that officials told operators how the breach interrupted the railway's normal activities, said Steve Carver, a retired Federal Aviation Administration information security manager, now an aviation industry consultant, who reviewed the memo."
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Hackers Manipulated Railway Computers, TSA Memo Says

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  • Why... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by errandum (2014454) on Monday January 23, 2012 @11:12PM (#38800623)

    Is a computer that controls anything like this connected to the exterior instead of it's own private network?

    Why?!

    • by Troke (1612099)
      So they can work from home of course!
    • by Anonymous Coward

      So you want to roll out a private network along each mile of rail?

      • Re:Why... (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Kenja (541830) on Monday January 23, 2012 @11:17PM (#38800663)

        So you want to roll out a private network along each mile of rail?

        Why not? In most cases that's where the major fiber cables run any how.

        • Re:Why... (Score:4, Interesting)

          by F34nor (321515) on Monday January 23, 2012 @11:33PM (#38800755)

          Here here! In addition they have their own swath of wireless bandwidth for their radios that could be reapportioned for this by going to digital radios.

        • by Fastolfe (1470)

          "Why not?" Cost, of course. It's far cheaper to connect remote nodes like this to public networks than it is to lay your own data connections down along every length of track. Just because other people lay down lines near some tracks does not mean it's cheap or free for the rail operators to lay down their own lines along all tracks.

          • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

            by Anonymous Coward

            Wouldn't be easier to just setup a VPN and secure the damm thing? I would think that should suffice provided strong security measures are in place.

          • Re:Why... (Score:5, Informative)

            by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday January 24, 2012 @12:13AM (#38800987)

            Sweet, a topic that I know something about for once!

            I am an S&C technician for a railway in Canada, and can tell you, the opposite is in fact true. A fibre conduit running coast to (almost) coast is a valuable thing. A few years back (before I started with them) they plowed a conduit underneath the rail bed. I hear they used multiple locomotives to pull a massive plow burying the conduit 10' under the rail bed. Sounded pretty sweet. The fiber is now leased to Rogers (may they rot in... er... never mind). I believe we have exclusive use of 4 fibers in the bundle, but I don't know too much about that end of it.

            The network of fiber is connected to strategically located radio towers. Another profitable venue is leasing space on a tower to the cell companies.

            Intermediate bungalows connect to the radio towers and relay control to switch machines and signal mechs. Our truck radios also communicate to the towers, and through the fiber to either RTC (Rail Traffic Control) or to another tower and another technician anywhere along the railway.

            I'm not sure about other railways, but I feel our system is pretty robust.

            • Mod this up, please as it appears to be first example of a /.er who has first hand knowledge.
            • by Fastolfe (1470)

              So you're saying that it is cost-effective (and perhaps a revenue source?) to lay conduit and fiber alongside every rail track in the US? Does this include existing rail lines?

              It was always my experience that remote rail equipment was connected to public networks (PSTN mainly, but cellular and radio also). Are you saying that this is not true? Could you elaborate on the reasons that the railway systems discussed in this article were connected to a public network, since you seem to be saying that your lin

          • by c0lo (1497653)

            "Why not?" Cost, of course. It's far cheaper to connect remote nodes like this to public networks than it is to lay your own data connections down along every length of track. Just because other people lay down lines near some tracks does not mean it's cheap or free for the rail operators to lay down their own lines along all tracks.

            Huh? Maybe the heat is making me dense today, I don't quite follow on why would they need to lay down data connections along every length of track, would you please elaborate?

            It's not likely that, right now, every length of track is lined with data connections, yet they managed somehow to do their job.

            • by xaxa (988988)

              Huh? Maybe the heat is making me dense today, I don't quite follow on why would they need to lay down data connections along every length of track, would you please elaborate?

              It's not likely that, right now, every length of track is lined with data connections, yet they managed somehow to do their job.

              I don't know for North America, and I don't really know for anywhere else, but I think almost all track has various cables along it. The signals and points (switches) need them, for a start, and telephones at the side (in case the train driver needs to contact the signaller). The tracks have a current run through them to detect if a train is on them (the train completes the circuit).

              That means there's already somewhere to put the cables -- round here (UK) there's often a concrete trough at the side, althou

          • by crbowman (7970)

            When you say cheaper, are you including the inevitable cost associated with the eventual security problems like this? Then you aren't not really doing a fair cost benefit analyses are you? You're just pushing your costs off onto the rest of us in the form of inevitable regulations need to protect the "critical infrastructure" Internet because of your stupid implementation. Of course it's cheaper, it's always cheaper to make someone else pay.

          • Not only IS it very cheap to lay down cables along rail tracks, it so CHEAP that in Holland one of the current telco's started out just like this as a daughter of the dutch railway company (NS + BT created Telfort). How do you think signals are connected? Once you laid one cable, adding more is incredible cheap especially if you can lay it down over very long distances and only need to deal with 1 owner of the land, yourself.

      • by Anonymous Coward

        So in your mind they have two choices:

        1. Use a network that's publicly available and has known hackers.
        2. Run private fiber

        In my mind I have more options, for example:
        3. Lease private exclusive connections
        4. Lease private connections on trusted networks
        5. Lease private connections on multiplexed fibers.

        If they opened their controls to a public network with known hackers, then that's criminal negligence. What if a train had been derailed, what if people had lost lives? The rail network has a public duty to a

        • Because private networks with entry points all over town can not be hacked, right.

          • by Anonymous Coward

            To hack a network with a physical separation, you have to physically hack the link.

            Are you saying that unless you can make something 100% secure, we shouldn't make it 99.99% secure, and should keep it at, well about 70% secure??

            You understand that on a multiplexed fiber, there's nothing you can do with the little light pulses to affect the other little light pulses, where as on a TCPIP packet network with login, it's as easy for a hacker to send login commands as for the real user.

            In systems like this, misd

      • by F34nor (321515)

        What a stupid thing to ask. Mission critical systems should not be attached to public networks period end of discussion.

        • good luck with that, running your own fiber all over the country. Interesting side note, but probably not relevant - the Sprint network was originally the SPC - Southern Pacific Communications company which started out as a set of microwave links along the railroad rights-of-way to support Southern Pacific Railway railroad operations, before the Internet existed. According to Wikipedia, when the long distance market was deregulated they started selling capacity to others, and one thing led to another. Al

      • by faedle (114018)

        Um.. they did it once. It was called the "telegraph."

      • Re:Why... (Score:4, Informative)

        by Alioth (221270) <no@spam> on Tuesday January 24, 2012 @07:55AM (#38803353) Journal

        I worked for British Rail just before it was privatized, they had their own private national telephone system and computer network. I suspect it still exists and is probably run these days by Network Rail. The signalling system was completely independent of this network, too.

    • Re:Why... (Score:5, Insightful)

      by siddesu (698447) on Monday January 23, 2012 @11:21PM (#38800677)

      Because when the work is contracted, the work is done in a piecemeal manner in order to show a lower budget to the committee that will be approving funds. Since the budget as a rule is never enough to allow for a proper, safe design, deployment and operation, things are done haphazardly, staff is overworked and/or under-qualified and the requirements change daily and need to be completed yesterday. As a result, you get holes, and holes get exploited.

      Then some politician exploits the news to create yet another committee to investigate and countermeasure the "attacks", leaving even less money for planning and deployment, and creating more opportunities for attacks and for position for his cronies, while maintaining an image of staunch defender of National Security.

      Business as usual.

      • by unity100 (970058)

        Business as usual.

        capitalism, you mean. capitalism forces cheap solutions across public and private sectors alike. it wouldnt be any different in private sector. in fact, a lot of the scada systems around the world, running factories, are connected to internet still as of this moment. despite their vulnerabilities were shown.

    • or else the outsourced IT department overseas has senior staff with, ahhh, alternate loyalties... .

    • Re:Why... (Score:5, Interesting)

      by currently_awake (1248758) on Monday January 23, 2012 @11:34PM (#38800761)
      I don't think it was. They clearly tried to blow this thing up as a major terrorist attack, but they never claimed risk to life. I'm guessing the "attacks" were a virus on the windows boxes used for selling tickets.
    • Re:Why... (Score:5, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday January 24, 2012 @01:46AM (#38801515)

      Railway signalling usually consists of two pieces - vital logic and control logic. Vital logic is the sort of thing that prevents showing two trains signals that would make them crash, or would allow the points on a switch to throw under a train, or other safety-related functionality. It's designed to be failsafe, and the design methodology is usually very rigorous because of the huge liabilities involved. This stuff is usually (these days) carried on the rails themselves by what are known as coded track circuits - basically on/off values via carrier frequencies placed on the rails themselves. In some areas and in prior eras, this was carried by signal lines paralleling the railway, either open wire or buried. Regardless, all this stuff is designed such that if pieces fail or communication is lost, everything goes red and train traffic stops.

      Control logic is the other half. It's the part of the system that communicates from a dispatcher hundreds or thousands of miles to the local control points. It communicates instructions that can be roughly translated as "allow a westbound past this control point" or "throw the switch to the siding and permit an eastbound through". This is then shot across somebody's network to the control point, where it's handed off to the vital logic. Commands from the dispatcher are really more like requests to the vital logic to perform that function when it's safe to do so. As a dispatcher, even if you'd send commands that would direct a pair of trains to proceed at each other, the vital logic will keep the appropriate signals red and never allow a collision to happen.

      So, given the hype-riddled press release, I'm guessing one of two things happened.
      1) There's a link between the dispatching computers and the field endpoints that travels over the public network, likely via VPN. Somebody found a way to interfere with that link and prevented commands from getting through (a stupid DDoS could work here, as rail signalling is extremely low bandwidth). Worst case impact - dispatchers can't issue requests for things to happen in the field. That said, I've never seen such a system that connected to an IP network. The ones I've seen are serial and go via modem, frame relay or leased line. There's also a dedicated railway signal control standard that travels over dedicated radio frequencies that's often used from a common radio base to a number of signal installations along a line.

      2) Somebody found a way to compromise the dispatching computers themselves and mess with them. Unlikely, but it wouldn't be the first time somebody had compromised a corporate firewall and found the cool toys inside. That said, they'd really have to know what these machines did and how commands were sent in order to do anything beyond send random crap or again, just prevent commands from being sent. The other possibility is that they got between the dispatch machines and the outbound serial links inside the corporate network.

      3) The scary but horribly unlikely one - somebody put a vital logic processor where it could be reached via the network. I've never heard of a vital logic processor with an ethernet port, but most of them just have a bunch of serial, one of which is a configuration/communication port through which the unit is programmed. Typically these are only accessible by a dude in the field plugged into the logic unit, but it's remotely possible some bonehead connected it to a network-accessible terminal server or something.

      1&2 are possibly crippling to a rail network, but not unsafe. Things stop and nothing moves, but nobody gets hurt. 3 is much more frightening, but I can't see any sane engineer (particularly in the signal department at a railroad, as these guys tend to be risk averse to a fault for good reason) ever signing off on this design. I would

      Most of this is just theorizing based on what I know from my association with the industry almost a decade ago, but because of that I'm posting as an A/C.

      • by Anonymous Coward

        When I worked on these, we had dedicated links (X25 serial in those days).

        There simply is NO EXCUSE for routing stuff like this over the public internet, VPN or not. Even a DDOS on those communications is unacceptable. If the railway techs sent that data across a public network, their employment should immediately be terminated and the railway company liable.

      • by Anonymous Coward

        And that all was correct until a few months ago. The new Positive Train Control requirements connect IP/Ethernet to the vital logic (mostly output only... but it's not like there's diodes on the Ethernet connection.

        All the systems we're installing to meet this regulation rely on IP traffic to keep trains moving. The security is completely dependent on being an isolated network.

        Unfortunately one railroad's system needs to talk to others... and this is generally done on the internet. It's over VPN, but can be

        • by tlhIngan (30335)

          And that all was correct until a few months ago. The new Positive Train Control requirements connect IP/Ethernet to the vital logic (mostly output only... but it's not like there's diodes on the Ethernet connection.

          They do make "data diodes" actually - it separates the "classified" network from the "unclassified" network, but allows some traffic to pass through. Data can flow from the unclassified network, but is blocked from the reverse.

          It's basically a firewall with application-level smarts and DPI - so a

  • Of course! (Score:5, Funny)

    by Alan Shutko (5101) on Monday January 23, 2012 @11:16PM (#38800655) Homepage

    Hackers have been involved in railroads since the very beginning [mit.edu]!

  • by Scutter (18425) on Monday January 23, 2012 @11:18PM (#38800667) Journal

    Now they'll have the excuse they need to do to the rails what they've done to the airlines.

    • by raydobbs (99133) on Monday January 23, 2012 @11:22PM (#38800685) Homepage Journal

      +1 to this - wishful thinking given form, they are just creaming their shorts over this. It means we can be violently sexually assaulted while trying to board trains, board airlines. Now all we need is them at every bus depot, every subway terminal, all border crossings. We'll be a police state in fear of our government overlords in no time.

      • It means we can be violently sexually assaulted while trying to board trains, board airlines.

        Worries me, that so many think that being frisked is sex. I mean, what if they're right? Since I only get frisked by male TSA agents, does that mean that I'm gay?

        • by El Torico (732160)

          Worries me, that so many think that being frisked is sex. I mean, what if they're right? Since I only get frisked by male TSA agents, does that mean that I'm gay?

          Only if you liked it.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by ajpuciat (2553090)
      Just what we need. I am guessing this isn't going to be limited to the rails either. Any mode of transportation utilizing computers will be "under attack," and we're going to stand around and get molested by the TSA. Awesome!
    • by MrEricSir (398214) on Monday January 23, 2012 @11:27PM (#38800709) Homepage

      ...when someone might hijack a train and crash it into a skyscraper.

      • Re:You never know... (Score:5, Interesting)

        by ajpuciat (2553090) on Monday January 23, 2012 @11:33PM (#38800759)
        "Amagasaki, Japan 26 April 2005 A seven-car train with 580 passengers derailed and slammed into an apartment building of nine floors. 73 people were killed and nearly 450 injured"

        Trains, in my buildings?

        It's more likely than you think.
        • by Anonymous Coward

          Yes, well, but did it have snakes on it?

        • by macshit (157376)

          "Amagasaki, Japan 26 April 2005 A seven-car train with 580 passengers derailed and slammed into an apartment building of nine floors. 73 people were killed and nearly 450 injured"

          Note that the line in question was one of the few passenger lines in Japan without ATC/ATS ("automatic train-control/train-stop") installed, and it's pretty likely that had it been installed (it was "on the list" to be upgraded at the time...), the accident would have been prevented, as the system automatically applies brakes in an overspeed condition.

          [One interesting question is whether the driver can disable it or not...]

          • depends. In a potential collision situation, no he wouldn't/shouldn't be able to, since it needs to be able to apply the emergency brakes (handy if the driver just had a heart attack and can't reach the controls!). In a "safe" overspeed situation it would sound a very loud alarm which the driver would have to deal with and correct the situation, otherwise after a set delay the brakes would engage.

            (for values of "safe" consider the following: switchpoint status, track curvature, speed limits, overspeed margi

    • by wbr1 (2538558)
      What logic is there in body scans and pat downs to protect against hackers?

      'Sorry ma'am, please take of your shoes so we can check for a flash drive with root kits on it."
    • by Megane (129182)
      Absolutely. We need more pat-downs and strip-searches of old ladies and grade schoolers to put a stop to this.
    • by c0lo (1497653)

      Now they'll have the excuse they need to do to the rails what they've done to the airlines.

      Eh... should I understand the public is that stupid to accept that scanners and patting-down will prevent crackers remoting into unprotected systems?

  • Shenanigans! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Kenja (541830) on Monday January 23, 2012 @11:27PM (#38800707)
    To me this sounds like some contractor introduced a bug to the system and is attributing the issues it caused to "hackers". If the system is really open to attacks of this nature, then it is fundamentally flawed.
    • by Anonymous Coward

      Ooh, very observant. Maybe the word "hacking" has replaced the overused "computer bug" as the scapegoat for human error.

    • Re:Shenanigans! (Score:5, Informative)

      by Samantha Wright (1324923) on Monday January 23, 2012 @11:35PM (#38800773) Homepage Journal
      What are you talking about? The hackers are "possibly from abroad"! This is serious! Why would the article author use such a blatantly sensationalist subclause if it weren't serious?! Especially when the last time this was claimed [popsci.com] turned out to be exactly what you're describing [chicagoist.com]!
    • by Rasperin (1034758)

      IF and only IF it was actually hacked, it's probably because the rail control system is connected to a personal PC which has a connection to the internet. I'm assuming being the person who controls those rails is a very very boring job and probably downloaded something they shouldn't have. The so called "hacker" logged on, notice it controlled the trains and decided to have some fun.

      I can wager that's how the events worked out if your case (far more likely) isn't right.

  • Just as the very brightest criminals are the ones that are never caught, I tend to assume that there are many people poking around in just about any system of consequence. Anonymous, Wikileaks, and similar operations are just the tip of the iceberg.

    I expect that we're heading for something that resembles John Brunner's Shockwave Rider, [wikipedia.org] where one day a clever hacker will make all governmental data banks miraculously be wide open. The kind of thing that will make Wikileaks seem like a trifle.

    As for ha
  • by JoeRandomHacker (983775) on Monday January 23, 2012 @11:46PM (#38800825)

    I'm sure that it is coincidence that this sort of story gets publicity now. Nothing to do with countering the bad press the TSA has gotten today. And I'm sure there is no way this sort of thing could be prevented in the future without an all-seeing, all-knowing, all-powerful TSA keeping watch on everyone who decides not to stay in one place all the time. Nothing to see here. Move along. Except for you, and you over there. We'll need you to step over here for a moment...

  • by koan (80826)

    Of important or critical items made accessible through the Inet, what idiot bean counter thought that was a good idea?
    This never would have been possible prior to putting control infrastructure on the Inet and then thinking the incompetent law makers and management would be able to secure it, in addition it's one more incident showing how ineffective the TSA really is, machine gun toting thugs roughing up citizens at the social security office or bus station while train systems get hacked.

    The TSA is useless

  • by b5bartender (2175066) on Tuesday January 24, 2012 @12:44AM (#38801151)
    ...the well-publicized "attack" on an Illinois water system by Russian Hackers [washingtonpost.com] that, unsurprisingly, never actually happened. [sj-r.com]
  • I usually try to. Right now, I honestly can't think anything but
      FUCK the TSA, everything they do, and everything they stand for.

  • Hmm.. they don't really say which railroad, but..

    Given that they imply "passenger service" was affected and use terms like "rush-hour", there's really only two railroads that could have been affected.

    My money's on the smaller of the two: P&W. Anybody else care to lay a wager?

  • by Animats (122034) on Tuesday January 24, 2012 @01:23AM (#38801351) Homepage

    Railroad signalling used to be all special purpose hardware. Not any more. Here's the "VitalNetâ Wayside Message Server" [ptc-asts.com]. Runs Red Hat Linux. Talks "Interoperable Train Control Messaging" protocol.

    It gets worse. Here's a General DataComm unit for railroad signal control. [gdc.com] "SC-ADT ports configured for Telnet/ SSH sessions, for bypass transport (port forwarding), and to convert async PPP data to IP for transport over a cellular data network. SC-ADT managed via Telnet, SSH, SNMP, FTP, TFTP and HTTP from the Dispatch Facility. "

    TFTP? FTP? Telnet? What's wrong with this picture?

    There's even a hobbyist program for listening in on signal control traffic [atcsmon.com], some of which is passed around on unencrypted radio links.

  • ...we're all still alive.

  • TSA contractors organize fear campaign to help boost sales.

  • by Issarlk (1429361) on Tuesday January 24, 2012 @04:43AM (#38802485)
    Make the ethernet cables run through an X-Ray machine, or pat down the IP packets. It'll be as efficient as in airports to prevent future breaches.
  • "Investigators discovered two Internet access locations, or IP addresses, for the intruders on Dec. 1 and a third on Dec. 2, the document noted, but it does not say in which country they were located".

    Who in their right minds connect a railway signals control system directly to the Internet?
  • by McGruber (1417641) on Tuesday January 24, 2012 @09:00AM (#38803727)

    The article tells us that this event happened to a railroad that (1) is in the Northwest, (2) runs scheduled trains during the workweek (Dec 1 was a Thursday) and (3) has frequent enough service that a 15 minute delay would be noticed.

    It appears to me that the railroad described is either Washington State's Sounder Train (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sounder_commuter_rail) or Oregon's Westside Express Service (WES) (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Westside_Express_Service).

  • by GameboyRMH (1153867) <gameboyrmh@NoSpAM.gmail.com> on Tuesday January 24, 2012 @11:00AM (#38805083) Journal

    I should start a service selling "industrial control system security retrofits." Between the Internet and the PLC, I'll set up a simple Linux box, with cryptknock and brute-force protection that only allows SSH logins with passphrased keyfiles. Then I'll give the operators a nice script (in .bat form and shellscripts) that puts them to the login prompt in one click and sets up a tunnel between their localhost and the PLC or whatever. Then they connect to the control client to localhost and work as usual. Because the places that do this shit usually have NO IT STAFF, I'll put together a simple interface for managing the keyfiles (some GUI on the box itself would be safest - really stripped down of course, ncurses-based ideally).

    For each installation I will charge $3k, maybe with a support option if they want me to manage their keyfiles remotely, very affordable to them but I am actually taxing them out the ass for stupidity >:)

    • by ITShaman (120297)

      When you do this, post your website, I'm sure we can get it slashdotted in no time :-)

  • ...so we'll need to cup your junk at railway stations now. -TSA
  • "The remotely taking of pelham 123"

Cobol programmers are down in the dumps.

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