Networked systems – friend or foe?

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Is the ever expanding network of information we call the internet not all it seems to the eye? With more and more people and companies harnessing what the internet has to offer, the biggest threat to our security is not just personal anymore, it’s national.

Works are currently underway to replace signals and controllers across our entire rail network. These systems would automatically control our trains; their speed, braking, signalling. Pretty much everything about them would be monitored and controlled by a networked computer system.

The system is designed to decrease the chance of human error; it has been successfully implemented elsewhere and has worked; but as with other such systems, the main concern is Cyber Security. If you’re going to control everything via the internet, does this open system up to dangers?

The simple answer is yes; by automating a system via the internet you essentially increase the amount of people that could potentially control that system.

Is that good reason to stick with what we’ve got? Our current rail system is too old to be vulnerable in many ways but allows for human error.

This time the answer is no. There always has been and always will be security threats when creating systems that control so much information. The type of security threat may be changing, but now just as ever, we can create safe guards against the people that wish to cause damage.

As with all such systems we expect to see some mission impossible style programming going into security. Thankfully, that’s exactly what has happened (exactly is probably too literal, but it’s the same sort of thing!). Professor David Stapples and his team at Cranfield University have designed a system that will essentially monitor each train and signal to see if there is any suspicious behaviour. The system can then alert the appropriate people and ensure there are no “nasty incidents”. It’s not quite ‘problem solved’, but it allows for a level of security that is greater than today.

As a country we have always been proud to develop new and innovative technology, it’s how the industrial revolution started, its how we won world wars and it’s how we pioneered the invention of the internet. Just because the nature of the threat is changing, that’s no reason to say that we’re not just as capable of defending ourselves now, as we have been for hundreds of years.

As a company we are similar, we pride ourselves in being at the forefront of our sector, we don’t sit back and stick to what we know, we innovate and create new systems, we know that we can create networked systems and defend against the small minority that wish to cause damage.


Alex Crichton

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