Hacking a traffic lights is frighteningly simple

A new study from the University of Michigan reveals just how vulnerable our infrastructure really is

Topics: the daily dot, Traffic Lights, Hacking, technology, University of Michigan, ,

Hacking a traffic lights is frighteningly simple
This article originally appeared on The Daily Dot.

The Daily Dot It has long been a dream of drivers the world over to make traffic lights instantly flip from red to green with the push of a button. A study published this month by computer scientists at the University of Michigan found that not only is hacking traffic signals to do your bidding possible, but it’s actually shockingly easy.

First getting permission from local authorities, the researchers used little more than wireless-enabled laptops to remotely hack into the network controlling the traffic lights in an unnamed Michigan city. ‟Our attacks show that an adversary can control traffic infrastructure to cause disruption, degrade safety, or gain an unfair advantage,” the paper’s authors explained.

When automatic traffic signals were first rolled out in the United States in the late 1800s, they operated mechanically as stand-alone units. However, as time wore on and technology advanced, most traffic signals evolved into computers, often connected to a larger network of other traffic lights through wireless technology and running through a central server. While these advances allow traffic signals to coordinate with each other more efficiently, it also opens those systems up to attack by hackers who no longer need to open up the physical devices in order to change their behavior.

Using computers that could communicate at the same frequency as the traffic signals, the team was able to intercept communications on the network and execute fraudulent commands across the entire system.

The researchers found that the system wasn’t particularly secure. Not only were the wireless communications between the traffic signals and the central server being sent unencrypted, but the passwords on the devices were set to their factory defaults—meaning anyone able to download a copy of the user’s manual off the Internet could crack them by simply turning to the right page.

‟The vulnerabilities we discover in the infrastructure are not a fault of any one device or design choice,” the study noted, ‟but rather show a systemic lack of security consciousness.”



The study posits that hackers could mount a whole range of attacks on traffic light systems. The authors speculate about denial of service attacks that could stop all lights from operating normally; traffic congestion attacks that subtly throw off the timing a light relative to its neighbors as to increase congestion without a high risk of detection; and light control attacks, where someone could ensure he or she only hits green lights wherever they happen to be driving.

The authors added that, even though traffic light systems around the country differ in their specific implementations, they don’t believe that others are necessarily significantly more secure than the one they were able to easily hack into. Vox notes that an estimated 62 percent of traffic lights in the United States are networked in a similar manner.

This study isn’t the first time someone has addressed insecurity of of traffic lights. Earlier this year, an Argentinian security researcher with IoActive presented similar discussion at at cybersecurity conference in Florida showing how someone could build a device for hacking traffic lights for under $100.

Additionally, at least one enterprising hacker has produced a step-by-step guide for building your own specialized controller for hacking traffic lights from the comfort of your own home.

The authors of the University of Michigan study charge that the problem of paying insufficient attention to cybersecurity concerns is endemic across the entire traffic signal industry. They conclude:

A clear example can be seen in the response of the traffic controller vendor to our vulnerability disclosure. It stated that the company, “has followed the accepted industry standard and it is that standard which does not include security.” The industry as a whole needs to understand the importance of security, and the standards it follows should be updated to reflect this. Security must be engineered into these devices from the start rather than bolted on later. Until these systems are designed with security as a priority, the security of the entire traffic infrastructure will remain at serious risk.

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 14
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Hannah and Adam, "Pilot"

    One of our first exposures to uncomfortable “Girls” sex comes early, in the pilot episode, when Hannah and Adam “get feisty” (a phrase Hannah hates) on the couch. The pair is about to go at it doggy-style when Adam nearly inserts his penis in “the wrong hole,” and after Hannah corrects him, she awkwardly explains her lack of desire to have anal sex in too many words. “Hey, let’s play the quiet game,” Adam says, thrusting. And so the romance begins.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Marnie and Elijah, "It's About Time"

    In an act of “betrayal” that messes up each of their relationships with Hannah, Marnie and Elijah open Season 2 with some more couch sex, which is almost unbearable to watch. Elijah, who is trying to explore the “hetero side” of his bisexuality, can’t maintain his erection, and the entire affair ends in very uncomfortable silence.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Marnie and Charlie, "Vagina Panic"

    Poor Charlie. While he and Marnie have their fair share of uncomfortable sex over the course of their relationship, one of the saddest moments (aside from Marnie breaking up with him during intercourse) is when Marnie encourages him to penetrate her from behind so she doesn’t have to look at him. “This feels so good,” Charlie says. “We have to go slow.” Poor sucker.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Shoshanna and camp friend Matt, "Hannah's Diary"

    We’d be remiss not to mention Shoshanna’s effort to lose her virginity to an old camp friend, who tells her how “weird” it is that he “loves to eat pussy” moments before she admits she’s never “done it” before. At least it paves the way for the uncomfortable sex we later get to watch her have with Ray?

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Hannah and Adam, "Hard Being Easy"

    On the heels of trying (unsuccessfully) to determine the status of her early relationship with Adam, Hannah walks by her future boyfriend’s bedroom to find him masturbating alone, in one of the strangest scenes of the first season. As Adam jerks off and refuses to let Hannah participate beyond telling him how much she likes watching, we see some serious (and odd) character development ... which ends with Hannah taking a hundred-dollar bill from Adam’s wallet, for cab fare and pizza (as well as her services).

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Marnie and Booth Jonathan, "Bad Friend"

    Oh, Booth Jonathan -- the little man who “knows how to do things.” After he turns Marnie on enough to make her masturbate in the bathroom at the gallery where she works, Booth finally seals the deal in a mortifying and nearly painful to watch sex scene that tells us pretty much everything we need to know about how much Marnie is willing to fake it.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Tad and Loreen, "The Return"

    The only sex scene in the series not to feature one of the main characters, Hannah’s parents’ showertime anniversary celebration is easily one of the most cringe-worthy moments of the show’s first season. Even Hannah’s mother, Loreen, observes how embarrassing the situation is, which ends with her husband, Tad, slipping out of the shower and falling naked and unconscious on the bathroom floor.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Hannah and the pharmacist, "The Return"

    Tad and Loreen aren’t the only ones to get some during Hannah’s first season trip home to Michigan. The show’s protagonist finds herself in bed with a former high school classmate, who doesn’t exactly enjoy it when Hannah puts one of her fingers near his anus. “I’m tight like a baby, right?” Hannah asks at one point. Time to press pause.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Hannah and Adam, "Role-Play"

    While it’s not quite a full-on, all-out sex scene, Hannah and Adam’s attempt at role play in Season 3 is certainly an intimate encounter to behold (or not). Hannah dons a blond wig and gets a little too into her role, giving a melodramatic performance that ends with a passerby punching Adam in the face. So there’s that.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Shoshanna and Ray, "Together"

    As Shoshanna and Ray near the end of their relationship, we can see their sexual chemistry getting worse and worse. It’s no more evident than when Ray is penetrating a clothed and visibly horrified Shoshanna from behind, who ends the encounter by asking if her partner will just “get out of me.”

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Hannah and Frank, "Video Games"

    Hannah, Jessa’s 19-year-old stepbrother, a graveyard and too much chatting. Need we say more about how uncomfortable this sex is to watch?

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Marnie and Desi, "Iowa"

    Who gets her butt motorboated? Is this a real thing? Aside from the questionable logistics and reality of Marnie and Desi’s analingus scene, there’s also the awkward moment when Marnie confuses her partner’s declaration of love for licking her butthole with love for her. Oh, Marnie.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Hannah and Adam, "Vagina Panic"

    There is too much in this scene to dissect: fantasies of an 11-year-old girl with a Cabbage Patch lunchbox, excessive references to that little girl as a “slut” and Adam ripping off a condom to ejaculate on Hannah’s chest. No wonder it ends with Hannah saying she almost came.

  • Recent Slide Shows

Comments

Loading Comments...