Have you ever approached that one traffic light that takes forever to change from red to green and wish you could just change it yourself? Certain disreputable parties might have the ability to do that. Researchers at the University of Michigan reports, “anyone with a radio hooked up to a laptop can wreak havoc by remotely changing lights at will -- or by shutting them all down.”
To think that this is even possible is extremely scary. It’s bad enough to deal with crazy drivers from day to day; now we all have to be concerned about some devious people hacking into the street lights.
Often-times, we simply take for granted that things like street lights are completely protected. We have become trained to think they are impervious to a threat like this.
Branden Ghena, a computer science PhD student at the university, and the lead researcher on the study said, “There's an assumption that these devices are secure. We all just trust them so much. This is critical infrastructure. We were shocked that was going on."
The lights that were tested on are produced by Econolite, one of largest makers of signals, cameras, and traffic management systems in North America. The controllers for the lights operate like your Wi-Fi at home. However, unlike having protected Wi-Fi, these controllers were completely unsecure. Hackers were using the same default usernames and passwords that can be found in an online manual that anyone can access.
Is there any way for local governments to guard themselves against this threat?
Surprisingly, there is a very simple way to make street lights nearly hack-proof. Researchers say, “Cities that install the traffic control systems can enable encryption and set passwords for their networks -- both options are available on the Econolite systems. It's as simple as clicking on a box on the device's screen.”
Unfortunately, some local governments don’t have the budget to make these changes, and the ones that do don’t think that a manual update to every controller is necessary. With that being said, don’t forget to look both ways.