Last weekend, Polish trains stopped so often that hacker attacks on railway infrastructure in various cities were even suspected. The disturbing situations, however, are most likely not IT actions, but… games of “gammons with a walkie-talkie”.
The problems of PKP in Poland, even reported by the BBC, have become a significant inconvenience for tourists and other travelers. As it turns out, the attacks were not caused by foreign hackers, but rather by pranksters who wanted to have fun.
PKP radio hacked – RADIO STOP signals were sent
The weekend problems started on Friday evening. In the West Pomeranian Voivodeship, trains stopped for a long time, which delayed over 20 different connections. The actions did not stop on Saturday and Sunday, when similar problems were reported in Białystok, Gdynia and Wrocław.
As experts from Niebezpiecznik explain, we don’t have to worry about the Polish railway being paralyzed by, for example, Russian hackers. The confusion is most likely the result of our compatriots who were simply bored in their free time.
This is the now infamous RADIO STOP signal. This is a special security system that enables quick remote shutdown of specific railway systems, including: it can emergency stop the train when a problem is detected at the switch. It does not require hacking into the railway IT system and cannot be used to cause serious damage, such as a collision or derailment of the train.
In theory, it should be assigned only by authorized persons, train drivers or other railway employees. However, experts explain that “any idiot with a walkie-talkie” can do it. The emergency RADIO STOP signal is described in detail in official documents. Not only is the tone sequence public, but the procedure is not encrypted in any way and does not require the sender’s authentication.
RADIO STOP crosses railway lines – this is not the first such case
This means that almost anyone can impersonate railway workers. All you need is a moment of searching on the Internet and even cheap radio equipment – a shortwave radio or an SDR module. As a result, an unsafe “joke” involving unauthorized stopping of trains has been operating in Poland for years.
In 2010, a wave of RADIO STOP arrests took place in Warsaw. In 2011, three perpetrators were charged with “IT sabotage” because they decided to stop local trains during an alcohol-fueled party.
Suspects were also arrested in the case of last weekend’s action. On Sunday, officers detained people suspected of stopping vehicles in Białystok, but media reports about the scandal most likely caused another “joke” in Wrocław.
However, the police are not laughing. This type of behavior can result in serious consequences and a broadcast ban of up to 8 years. Moreover, the perpetrators can be detected quite easily. The radio range is quite short, and it is also possible to locate the location from which the RADIO STOP signal was sent.