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American photojournalist Lori Nichols was driving down the highway near Atlantic City close to midnight when she snapped a picture of a free standing temporary road sign. On the lit up road sign, instead of the normal “work ahead” or “slow down”, the sign instead read the word “poop”.
The sign had been like that for several hours. When she reported it to the police station in the morning, she was told other people had also called it in.
While the pranksters only wrote “poop” on the sign, it does raise the question as to how easy it was to gain access to an unlocked panel at the back of the sign. Instead of writing what they did, they could have written something that could have created an entirely different scenario. Something warning of a serious incident, or perhaps a threat that could have sparked a very different response…
This one sign could have sent people in to panic, causing accidents and all sorts of problems. With cities using more “smart technology” hackers could use this as a way to cause large scale chaos through hacking, and we fear that it will not be long before it happens.
By hackers taking control of traffic lights, automated bus stops, parking, street lights, and other systems, this could be very appealing to anyone who might have a political or terrorist agenda.
Cesar Cerrudo is the chief technology officer at security company IOActive Labs. He found weaknesses in different systems in China, UK, US, Australia, and France. He discovered that hackers could cause havoc using cheap computer hardware to easily access systems and software.
He says that:
“I don’t think now we are seeing many attacks, maybe some isolated attacks on lower maintained systems. But everything indicates that in the future they will become common because cyber threats are continually evolving.”
In America many states are using cloud technology, such as in Kansas City Missouri. The Smart City project they run is the new RideKC Streetcar which is free to use. The project also includes in-street parking sensors that allow car owners to find spaces near the Streetcar route, and cameras placed on lamp posts to monitor traffic conditions, and trigger brightness controls that turn on street lights when a person enters the area.
The cloud is used to store data from the Smart City installation, but not for the Streetcar vehicle specific system – this is done to aggregate and pool data that Kansas City Authority want to make publicly accessible.
However, a lot of these companies on-board have never written software for these new transport devices before. This means that lessons in security that the IT industry has learned over the last twenty years, are just being re-learned now by these Smart City innovators.
This includes how to respond and protect from security threats. As Mr Cerrudo points out “There is nothing smart about building a city that has the latest transportation technology, but leaving the infrastructure wide open to anyone who fancies a quick snoop around – or worse.”
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