Cyber Security in Digital Railway

The digital technology revolution has brought the world to our fingertips, where we can swipe a touchscreen to connect with people and information from anywhere.

The number of global web users increased from 16 million in 1995 to more than 3.8 billion in less than 22 years between 1995 to 2017. Since 2015, there are now actually more interconnected devices on the planet than human beings.

Transport networks have become increasingly digital in the past few years. A wide range of data flows across these systems. In transport modes, quantity and variation of data helps the operators to improve performance, efficiency, security and service provisioning.

Digital Railway
Railway cyberspace includes the digital systems that support business as well as operational systems. The operational railway functions supported by these digital systems include signalling, power, rolling stock, communications, track, stations and customer information. This helps to support effective business decisions such as remote support, maintenance, condition monitoring and system optimisation.

Cyber Security Issues
Cyber security has been critical to businesses in the recent past. Over the past year, two-thirds of big businesses have been targeted by cyber-attacks resulting in breaches that reached millions.
In the UK, railway projects such as Crossrail, HS2 and the Thameslink modernisation programme, rely on modern digital systems to meet their objectives. However, these developments expose the railway as a potential target for cyber-attack. Such an attack on the railway services could have one or more of the following impacts for railway stakeholders:

Threat to safety of the workforce, passengers or the public resulting in harm

  • Disruption to railway services
  • Financial loss, including to the wider UK economy
  • Loss of commercial or sensitive information
  • Criminal damage
  • Reputational damage
  • Failure to comply with law

Security of Railway Systems
The growing cyber threat to digital railway presents a challenge to develop rigorous and comprehensive security policies that deliver security enforcement and monitoring.

The counter measures to prevent cyber-attacks on railways can be enhanced by making detailed security analyses, functional audits, or the introduction of crisis management to minimize operational, financial and image impacts. Moreover, the following measures can be adopted to prevent railways from cyber-attacks:

  • Increasing the cyber security awareness in organisations and among its workforce
  • Take the risk based approach to understand the extent of system vulnerabilities and the possible impact of security breaches
  • Adopting a consistent security approach throughout the organisation including systems, technology and physical sites to protect overall railway organisation
  • Developing security measures and constantly improving them to deal with latest cyber attacks
  • Using monitoring tools to detect, visualize, analyse and react to threats and vulnerabilities
  • Training individuals to use monitoring tools and having up-to-date contingency plans
  • Provisioning of additional services, such as cyber threat intelligence and penetration tests

Read about the Rail Cyber Security Strategy here.


Simon Peter NadeemĀ – PhD Candidate, University of Derby

Simon is an ambitious, emerging researcher in the era of Circular Economy, Logistics and Supply Chain Management, and Business.