Cyber security for railways

The consequences of a successful major cyber-attack on a nation’s rail infrastructure could be catastrophic. A metro transport system brought to a standstill for even a short period would cause city-wide havoc, damaging the local economy, harming the metro operator’s bottom line, and making passengers doubtful about the future safety and reliability of transport services. Worse, a successful attack on a communications-based train control system could cause an accident, putting lives at risk.

Nobody in the industry wants any of that to happen. Yet, based on Nokia’s experience in the industry, the risks of cyber-attacks occurring are often under-estimated by rail operators. In a July 2017 speech, Suresh Prabhu, Indian Railway Minister summed up succinctly the need for better security in railways: “When we do everything manually, the challenge is manual error and if we are shifting from manual to technology oriented operations, then the flaws in technology, or someone who can potentially hoodwink it, is as high and sometimes even more dangerous. So cyber-security is one of the top priorities.”

Unfortunately, some attacks have succeeded in the past, inflicting serious consequences in several countries. Digital transformation in railway operations has ushered in new applications to monitor and control rail
systems. These applications are typically based on IP technologies, generating a wide range of IP traffic flowing across the communications network. Examples of how digitization is being deployed more widely include train control, control of signaling, maintenance monitoring, video protection and passenger information systems.

Cyber-attacks are a growing threat to all types of mission critical network, including those used by railways. Security agencies recognize the risks. In the US, cyber-security is seen as a serious economic and national threat with the US Computer Emergency Readiness Team (US-CERT) creating a framework to support the protection of critical infrastructure. In Europe, the EU has proposed a cyber-security strategy outlining its vision, clarifying roles and responsibilities, and defining actions required to protect citizens.2 In Asia, some governments have established national cyber-security policies.

Consequently, railway security must be stepped up. Key capabilities to protect networks include security automation that encompasses business processes, incident response plans, regulations and policies; endto-end security that encompasses the operation of the network and its processes; security analytics to correlate security-related information from across the network, devices and cloud layers to spot suspicious anomalies and provide insight into threats; and multi-layer encryption to protect network traffic. Such a multi-layered and active security approach provides the right balance of costs with the in-depth protection needed to defend against today’s security threats.

Read the full whitepaper here.


Nokia is an Exhibitor of Asia Pacific Rail 2019, taking place from 19-20 March 2019. They will be showcasing their latest technologies and innovations at Booth E25. 

Registration to the free expo is now open. Register for your free pass to visit them here

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