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Could Hackers Take Down a City?

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Newer, smart traffic light systems may be one of the ways hackers could attack cities.

Security researchers suggest hackers could cripple cities due to their increasing reliance on technology.

Credit: Pete Marovich/Bloomberg

Researchers such as David Raymond, deputy director of Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University's IT Security Lab, warn of the possibility of cyberattackers crippling a city because of urban centers' increasing reliance on technology and the frail, messy connections that bind those systems together.

"The digital pathways between all of the entities and organizations in a city [are] often not well managed," Raymond cautions. "In many cases, there's no overarching security architecture or even understanding of holistically what the city looks like."

Raymond, U.S. Military Academy at West Point professor Gregory Conti, and Drawbridge Networks' Tom Cross presented research at this month's Black Hat USA conference on cities' cyber-vulnerabilities. They speculate transportation systems are one area that may be susceptible to a targeted attack, given they are places where otherwise well-shielded technology may converge in ways that are not well protected, leading to a cascade effect that impacts the entire city.

Other researchers presenting at Black Hat detailed how security vulnerabilities involving Ethernet switches could be exploited to cause a nuclear plant shutdown.

Conti also notes cities concerned about hacking vulnerabilities often have difficulty drawing the right specialists and secure resources to offer a long-term solution.

Cross argues cities should use the same types of risk management tactics they apply to traditional attacks to the digital domain.

From The Washington Post
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