A government scientist advisor has warned that an upgrade to a hi-tech signalling system in control of all Britain’s train has the potential to be hacked and cause a serious crash.
When the new signalling system is implemented, computers will dictate essential safety information such as how fast a train should be travelling and long they will take to stop.
It is expected to take command of trains on the UK’s busiest intercity routes by the 2020s.
Other countries are already using similar systems and currently, there have been no reported cases of cyber-attacks.
Despite the fact that the computer signals are intended to make the railways safer by reducing driver mistakes, Professor Stupples is concerned terrorists and cyber-attackers could cause a “nasty accident” or “major disruption” by hacking into the system.
“It’s the clever malware that actually alters the way the train will respond, so it will perhaps tell the system the train is slowing down when it is speeding up” the networked electronic and radio systems expert claimed.
“Governments aren’t complacent. Certain ministers know this absolutely possible and they are worried about it. Safeguards are going in, in secret, but it’s always possible to get around them,” he added.
Network Rail, the organisation responsible for the upgrades and the UK’s railway network as a whole, has responded to Professor Stupples’ claims.
“We know that the risk of a cyber-attack will increase as we continue to roll out digital technology across the network,” it claimed.
“We work closely with government, the security services, our partners and suppliers in the rail industry and external cybersecurity experts to understand the threat to our systems and make sure we have the right controls in place,” Network rail added.