Feeds

back to article Traffic light vulns leave doors wide open to Italian Job-style hacks

Hackers may be able to create traffic chaos, just like Michael Caine's loveable rogue in classic Brit film The Italian Job, thanks to an alarming series of flaws discovered in traffic control systems. Cesar Cerrudo, CTO at embedded security experts IOActive Labs, discovered that traffic control systems in cities around the world …

COMMENTS

This topic is closed for new posts.

Page:

It wasn't Michael Caine who hacked the traffic control systems in The Italian Job, it was Benny Hill!

21
0
Silver badge
Joke

Hmm, I now have the mental image of cars chasing about and utter traffic chaos, all overlaid with the soundtrack of Yakkety Sax.

So much for getting any work done today...

12
0
Bronze badge

That's right.

He liked his women big, if I remember correctly.

Thinking of the Italian job: There's a world cup coming up, we could cause traffic light chaos and make off with the gold to Argentina in a coach. I'm not aware of the Chinese delivering any gold to Brazil around that time but I've heard footballers get paid in lorry loads of cash so we could grab that instead.

We could call it "The Brazilian Job: It's not what you think" and sell the film rights too.

13
0

Re: That's right.

As long as it's nowhere on the pacific rim...

5
0
Silver badge
Coat

No Italian Job story is complete with:

"You're only supposed to blow the bloody doors off!"

0
1
Bronze badge
Black Helicopters

Re: That's right.

Ahh, reminds me of this old chestnut....

Donald Rumsfeld finished his daily briefing to George W. Bush by telling him

"Yesterday, 3 Brazilian soldiers were killed."

"OH NO!" President Bush exclaims. "That's terrible!"

His staff sits stunned at this display of emotion, nervously watching as the President sits, head in hands.

Finally, the President Bush looks up and asks, "How many is a brazillion?"

Chopper, erm, just in case.

3
0
Bronze badge
Paris Hilton

Thief of Budapest?

Does anyone remember the MacGyver episode "Thief of Budapest" where he cut up some credit cards and stuck them in the traffic light controller, making all the lights red, causing lots of chaos (or more chaos)?

(Also lots of Minis racing...cool chase scenes)...

Paris...not Reena, but she'll have to do...

0
0
Silver badge
Linux

Re: Thief of Budapest?

"(Also lots of Minis racing...cool chase scenes)..."

Yes, and many of the chase scenes were actual scenes from The Italian Job. Only the close ups were actually filmed for MacGuyver.

(open source film clips? Irwin Allen was famous for reusing clips from one show in another)

0
0

Hack away you can't do worse than Bristol City Council

Bristol City council can beat any hacker any day at traffic light induced chaos. If there is a straight stretch of road they'll throw up a set of traffic lights with timings setup without consideration for any lights up or down the road to cause the maximum disruption.

One journey a little while ago of around 2 -3 miles I passed through 24 sets of traffic lights and stopped at 22 of them. I guess BCC's bid for the Green Capital of Europe was based around slowing the traffic down to such an extent that moss started to grow on the cars.

10
0
Silver badge

Re: Hack away you can't do worse than Bristol City Council

Sounds horribly familiar. We've got a few gyratory roundabouts around here (Crawley) which have numerous sets of lights on them. You can always tell when they conk out (roughly once or twice a year on average), as the traffic flow improves markedly and journey times decrease by about 10 minutes going across town.

But do they learn? No, they fix them and normal delayed service is resumed...

6
0

Re: Hack away you can't do worse than Bristol City Council

You can probably replace "Bristol" with any other reasonably large town or city. My vote goes for York (20 minutes to travel the half-mile to the A64/A1079 interchange, every weekday evening).

3
0
Silver badge
Facepalm

Re: Hack away you can't do worse than Bristol City Council

Or Birmingham. Look at the abortion that is the Northfield "bypass" (it's actually quicker to go through than use the bypass). When collared at a local council meeting, a councillor admitted that the traffic light timings could be optimised and allow traffic through much faster. However there were national guidelines that prohibit councils making private travel easier - the mantra is "use public transport".

We need an Alice-in-Wonderland icon ;)

6
0
Bronze badge

Re: Hack away you can't do worse than Bristol City Council

You get the same thing everywhere, and if an acquaintance of mine (who works in a local planning department) is to be believed, the lack of synchronisation of lights is intended, rather than accidental. Read into that whatever you wish, but I can't say that it would be particularly surprising if it were a widespread truth; setting a chain of lights up to deliberately catch motorists at each set would let you force motorists to progress down that stretch of road at less than the posted limit. It would also let you massage traffic flow figures in any politically convenient direction, should there be government money available to help ease certain traffic-related problems, that can then be subcontracted to companies run by relatives for a juicy backhander.

Not that councillors have ever been found at the gravy barrel before, of course, but at some point one of them might succumb to the temptation ^^;

This news does lend itself to the somewhat bizarre conclusion that local motorists would be capable of (illegally) making local traffic control hardware more efficient though, and (again illegally) improving local traffic flow and journey times, should they spend some time investigating and redesigning light sequences. What a strange turn of events!

5
1
Bronze badge
Headmaster

Re: Hack away you can't do worse than Bristol City Council

This done by intent.

The idea is apparently to discourage inner-city motoring, rather than improve traffic flow & lower pollution.

5
0

Re: Hack away you can't do worse than Bristol City Council

> One journey a little while ago of around 2 -3 miles I passed through

> 24 sets of traffic lights and stopped at 22 of them

Was that journey on foot, by bike, or in a bus?

Or some other means of transport?

Did you notice whether the timings might have been chosen to better suit some other type of road user?

1
0
Silver badge

Re: Hack away you can't do worse than Bristol City Council

A common reason for traffic signals not being synchronized is that the breaks in the traffic flow allow cars from perpendicular streets to get into the or cross the road. When lights are synchronized the traffic never breaks and if you're not already in the flow, it's going to be Christmas before you can.

1
1
Silver badge

Another reason for stalling traffic flow

you guys may not have considered is government fuel excise revenue.

Some years ago, a friend of mine worked out how much petrol he used sitting at stop-lights on an average working day, totted up how much that cost, factored in the percentage of fuel excise and multiplied that by the number of cars on the road in our city (Adelaide, Australia - about 1.2 million people.)

It turned out that at the (then) price of around $1.00 per litre of which around 60c is government taxes and excises, using about 3-5 litres per week idling at lights, by 400,000 cars, comes out to $0.60 * (3 to 5) * 400,000 = between $720 K to $1.2 million per week or between $37.44 million and $62.4 million per year in revenue just from traffic stopped at lights. And that's just from a small, relatively trafficable city like Adelaide, back when petrol was only $1 per litre (it's now around $1.80.) I'll leave it to the El Reg readership to imagine what those figures would be like for a major city the size of London...

That kind of money is definitely enough to capture the attention of government beancounters. Which no doubt means that said beancounters have some say in how the stop-lights are sequenced in order to maximise revenue from petrol wastage.

0
0

How true

I live just a few miles outside Bristol, It's the only place that fills me with dread at the thought of having to drive there.

2
0
Silver badge

Re: How true

"I live just a few miles outside Bristol, It's the only place that fills me with dread at the thought of having to drive there."

It's not so bad when you're used to it. I used to cycle a lot - but now the idea of cycling anywhere in Bristol is something that would fill me with dread. And not just because of how fatunfit I am!

0
0
Thumb Up

Hmmm

I wonder how long it'll be before someone works out how to display their Twitter timeline onthe big motorway matrix-signs?

Speaking of which, I recall the first appearance of the rear-window-mounted LED message-panels in police-cars a couple of decdes back. Though issued with the messages pre-programmed from 'head office' it wasn't long before the local DTELS guys discovered that these things had essentially no security and the text could be reprogrammed via a 9-pin RS232 cable and a suitably-equipped Psion organiser.

Which led to at least one big white Vauxhall Senator patrolling the motorways where instead of the message panel displaying "STOP POLICE" when activated, it flashed up "HELLO SAILOR".

6
0
Thumb Up

HELLO SAILOR

Have a click for giving me a laugh this morning

1
0
Anonymous Coward

Re: Hmmm

I'm waiting to see what the lawyers do when Managed Motorways turn into Mismanaged Motorways - travelling on the M62 a few months ago I went under two consecutive gantries with completely inconsistent instructions. Whether hackers or malicious/incompetent employees can do it, the interesting question is who will pay the insurance companies back when negligent signage causes an accident, not to mention any criminal responsibility.

0
0
Silver badge

Meh.

Lights here in Sydney Australia have been hacked by the goverment for a while. Witnessed a situation just south of Sydney City were one set of lights was stuck on red one way for a half hour straight. People eventually started blowing lights thinking they were clearly faulty.

Then witnessed a series of goverment vehicles and motorcycles (Presumably carrying our ever-important Prime Minister of the day) pass through the green section.

Driectly after that, the lights started magically working again.

As making fun of polititians is a national sport here, they're really not helping when they pull stunts like this.

3
0

Hmm, I assumed they were all on sensors these days

I admit quite happily if I stop at a set that are red, and there's nothing coming the other way, I assume they're faulty, go through (cautiously) and then report them to the council as faulty.

0
0

Already happened

The traffic lights run by Staffordshire Council have already been hacked, by a cunning social engineering technique of having nee'r do well stooges become the entire staff of the place.

That's my theory anyway.

3
1
Gold badge
Unhappy

Traffic lights should be *more* vulnerable as the system benefits from central control.

So in principle most sets would be on a private network with some kind of pre set pattern of delays if they lose contact. Unless budget cuts have got them all on the interwebs.

BTW If the claim that signals are set badly deliberately to slow slow down traffic then the idea is b**lcks as the UK does not have centrally managed public transport and bus operators set their own timetables (which friends tell me bear little resemblance to reality).

IOW All stick, no carrot.

0
5
Thumb Up

Re: Traffic lights should be *more* vulnerable as the system benefits from central control.

In some parts of South Africa, the traffic-lights are remotely managed using embedded cellphone-data terminals: thieves targeted them for the SIM-cards and then ran up large bills !

http://www.theregister.co.uk/2011/01/06/joburg_traffic_light_theft/

So long as they only use this to report faults to "head office" it seems OK, but if these things can also be reprogrammed over a 3G data-link it becomes more interesting.

0
0
Vic
Silver badge

Re: Traffic lights should be *more* vulnerable as the system benefits from central control.

BTW If the claim that signals are set badly deliberately to slow slow down traffic then the idea is b**lcks

As someone who's spent time in and around the Traffic Industry, I can assure you it most certainly is *not* bollocks. Signal and junction design can have many features, and they're not always the ones you think you're getting.

The Bullar Road junction in Southampton was world-famous for many years - engineers could draw it even if they diodn't know which country Southampton is in. It is intended to make it difficult to drive private cars from the (cheaper) East side of the water into the city centre, whilst enabling buses to get through comparatively easily. Then they deregulated the buses and the whole plan went to pot. But at least part of that system has recently been decommissioned.

the UK does not have centrally managed public transport and bus operators set their own timetables

That is true now - but much of the planning was carried out when buses were municipal services prior to privatisation. And then forgotten.

Vic.

1
0
Gold badge
Unhappy

Re: Traffic lights should be *more* vulnerable as the system benefits from central control.

"As someone who's spent time in and around the Traffic Industry, I can assure you it most certainly is *not* bollocks. Signal and junction design can have many features, and they're not always the ones you think you're getting."

Ah, I see most reads mis parsed my post.

Yes I can believe that junction signals have been programmed to favor public transport

I thought the idea of doing so is b**lcks now that most bus services are privatized and there is no co ordination between services.

My apologies for my lack of clarity.

1
0

Re: Traffic lights should be *more* vulnerable as the system benefits from central control.

Vic, as someone who once LIVED in Bullar Road, I am interested in this story. And also the recent re-configuring of the same junction (the filter to turn right from bitterne road into bullar road is now separate from the straight ahead and left turn lanes)

The traffic heading east OUT of the city centre seems to be worse though!

0
0
Silver badge

Re: Traffic lights should be *more* vulnerable as the system benefits from central control.

How was life 'in' the road? The Opossums and squirrels I've seen in the road didn't seem to be at all happy about it :)

0
0
Anonymous Coward

So...Exactly how easy is it to make this sub $100 box that can change all the lights on my way to work to green? Are there any plans available? Just asking for err...a research paper I am writing.

3
0
Go

But if the 3G datalink is properly secured, then it's still a non-issue. The SIM cards can be provisioned onto a private APN, secured with username/password to get onto the cellular network, and the internet access restricted (inside the upstream network, not at the modem) such that only the head office is whitelisted and all other traffic gets dropped. The thief gets a non-functional SIM for their troubles and doesn't keep stealing more of them, and you don't have a wifi AP sitting out on the road just waiting for someone to take the time needed to crack into it.

0
0

I think it would help if we changed the colours to Blue, Purple, and Cyan

Or Pink, Taupe, and Orange

0
0

I've hacked a traffic light

Well to be more correct, I've fixed broken temporary traffic lights by switching them off and/or turning them away from the road so drivers understand that the road works aren't under any control and will proceed at their own risk (which they do though the council officials seem to think us plebs have no common sense).

More traffic problems are caused by broken or misconfigured lights than could ever be caused by hackers.

#scaremongering

6
0
Silver badge

Re: I've hacked a traffic light

I've never understood how traffic lights become misconfigured. Most programmable lights have a battery in the ground level service box that keeps the programming in the event of a power outage. Somebody once told me that cars turning on a cross street could screw the lights up if the driver got over into the oncoming lane. But that never struck me as very realistic.

Meh, they probably run Windows.

0
0
Anonymous Coward

Hang on Lads

I have a plan.

3
0
Silver badge

Traffic slow?

Here in that London our Mayor, Boris the Johnson decreed that the green phase for pedestrians at crossings should be reduced by two seconds.

A man who has never had to wrestle with small kids and a baby buggy at the same time.

2
0

Re: Traffic slow?

I have been to London a few times. I hated that traffic light near Victoria Coach station. Once I was waiting for the green man to cross the road. As I was crossing the traffic light, the lights turned green for vehicles. Instead of letting me finish crossing the road, they all charged down the road with me in the middle. A few months later, I heard that a woman had been killed on the same crossing.

2
0
Anonymous Coward

Re: Traffic slow?

The government is going to decrease the pedestrian phase by 2 seconds a year until 2017 to weed out some of the fatter children.

0
0
Silver badge

Seattle, New York, and Washington DC?

Not sure anyone would notice if the lights were hacked in the middle of rush hours. Perhaps the middle of the day, but not rush parking lot hours. Not sure about NY and Seattle, but here on the beltway, parking lot hours are 6:00 am to 9:30 am and 3:00 pm to 6:30 pm, except Fridays when late hours are 2:30 to 7:30. Don't ask! It just is.

0
0
Anonymous Coward

Deliberate slowing ...

is a fact. Certainly in Brum, where the Selly Oak and Northfield "bypasses" on the A38 are.

All the lights are linked, so it is *possible* to avoid the classic your-light-goes-green just as the pedestrian crossing light 50metres on goes red. However, speaking to one of the council engineers, it transpires they are *deliberately* set so as to work like this. The reason is politcial/ideological. They will not do anything which makes it easier to travel by car.

As alluded to by another poster, it's now quicker to go through Northfield (which to be fair is what most people do) than use the bypass. If you use Google streetview, you'll see exactly what I mean.

1
0
Silver badge
Unhappy

Last time I had a peek into a box that was being worked on, it was a Siemens PLC inside - you know, the vendor that thinks there's nothing wrong with having a hard-coded password.

2
0

User-modified traffic controls

Back in th 1970s, my hometown paved an old rail right-of-way to provide extra lanes on the main road out of town. This was nearly pointless, as the next town over had already sold their portion for development, so a choke-point was created. Anyway, in addition to the widening came spiffy new traffic lights. After a few weeks of motorist frustration, the control box for the lights exploded. Many of us thought that this was the work of a Motorist Liberation Front, but it turned out to be that the construction crew had damaged a gas main, and the slow leak had followed the path of least resistance into the box, where a spark from the contactors had ignited it.

0
0
Joke

I am a cyclist. What are these lights that everyone is referring to?

1
0
Silver badge

Let me explain it to you.

In most of the country a red light means "Stop."

In London it means "Next 4 cars please."

... unless you're a taxi driver or a cyclist, in whch case it's "What red light?"

0
0
Silver badge

50,000?

Phfft. There are that many traffic lights alone in the city I live in.

In order to hack them, you still have to actually open the big grey boxes nearby and fiddle with the ancient electromechanical control system. They are close enough to the intersection that it is quite obvious that someone has the box open. Without the proper disguise, you will be busted in minutes.

0
0
Silver badge

Re: Proper Disguise

Orange high vis: £2.50

1000V insulated electrician's gloves: £3.50

Causing a 96 car pile-up: Priceless.

0
0
Go

Won't matter in countries...

...where the horn is used as a substitute for the brake pedal.

0
0

Traffic control - the road to nowhere?

I was surprised at how expensive traffic lights are to install and maintain.

Getting rid of traffic lights increases traffic flow, while reducing accidents:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZeryaK22ntw

http://www.equalitystreets.com/

0
0

Page:

This topic is closed for new posts.