Tech

DC To Probe City Traffic Lights After Man Hacked Into System

Officials in Washington, D.C. will conduct an audit of the city’s traffic light grid to test for vulnerability to cyber attacks after a man successfully hacked into the system last year.

In 2014, a security researcher from Argentina went to the capital to see how easy it would be to hack in to its traffic light system. It wasn’t that hard, WTOP reported.

The district, in an effort to stay out ahead of would-be criminals, will launch its audit this summer to identify potential weaknesses in the system.

Cerrudo, of the Internet security company IOActive Labs, casually walked down a street near Capitol Hill, pulled out his lap top, and with in minutes was able to turn red lights to green, or green lights to red, according to The New York Times.

After conducting his experiment, which could have seriously crippled city infrastructure, Cerrudo brought it to the attention of the company that designs traffic sensors for the city, but he was ignored.

He hoped the company, which does not encrypt traffic running through the sensors, would fix the major security lapse, but when they wouldn’t listen, Cerrudo started blogging about the issue.

According to Cerrudo, anybody with $100 could acquire the necessary equipment to hack into many cities’ traffic control systems.

“The vulnerabilities I found allow anyone to take complete control of the devices and send fake data to traffic control systems,” Cerrudo wrote. “Basically anyone could cause a traffic mess by launching an attack with a simple exploit programmed on cheap hardware.”

Cerrudo also said that once a device is compromised it is very difficult and expensive to detect it. Further, he said, there could be devices around the country already compromised, and no one would know about it.

The District’s Department of Transportation, though, said claims made by Cerrudo simply are not true.

Keith St. Clair, a spokesman for District’s Department of Transportation, told WTOP it would be impossible for Cerrudo to switch the color of lights because the wireless sensor he accessed would only allow him to request a green light.

Also, St. Clair said, only about 50 of D.C.’s 1,650 intersections use the wireless sensor technology, and most of those are lightly trafficked side streets.

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