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How to protect your critical traffic infrastructure

Nils Schmidt: How to protect your critical traffic infrastructure

Cybersecurity is a globally discussed topic. There is a lot of talk and writing about how to protect your cell phone, your digital account or your mailbox.

What many may not suspect: Critical infrastructure, for example, which includes road traffic technology and thus also traffic lights, is also susceptible to hacker attacks – if it is not adequately protected.

We asked Nils Schmidt, Managing Director of Yunex Traffic Germany, where cybersecurity risks lurk in road traffic technology – and how we can protect cities from them.

Why do we need to think about cybersecurity in road traffic technology as well?

Nils Schmidt: Road traffic technology is part of the critical infrastructure, i.e., assets that are of central importance for maintaining important societal functions, health, safety and the well-being of the population.
Disruptions to road infrastructure have a huge impact on public life – we see this regularly in traffic jams or train cancellations, for example. Since most traffic control systems now run digitally, cyberattacks are a major risk factor for disruptions in road traffic technology. And must therefore be avoided at all costs.

Where do cybersecurity risks lurk in road infrastructure?

Nils Schmidt: There are many! One risk area, for example, that was also recently the focus of German media coverage, is the exchange of signals via analog radio, which is used, for example, in public transport prioritization.

What is the problem with analog radio?

Nils Schmidt: The main problem is the lack of safety aspects: As the reports have shown again just recently, communication via analog radio is not adequately protected against hacker attacks and no longer meets the current state of IT security.
In addition, the German Federal Network Agency has decided that the analog operational radio frequencies in the 20 kHz grid will be discontinued as of 2028 and that only a few frequencies will be available beyond that.

Why do cities still use analog radio for public transport prioritization?

Nils Schmidt: Many applications in traffic management have a lifespan of several decades. Public transport prioritization is no exception. Even though these systems are very old, the changeover involves investment and effort. It can therefore not happen overnight – not least in view of the safety aspects, however, it should be done as quickly as possible.

What alternatives are there to analog radio in public transport prioritization?

Nils Schmidt: The more secure alternatives to analog radio are digital radio systems that enable authenticated communication between vehicles and the infrastructure. They are thus better protected against external interference.

At Yunex Traffic, we offer three types of digital systems:

  • Centralized public transport prioritization uses a global navigation satellite system (GNSS) in the public transport vehicle to determine the position and speed of the bus. When the public transport vehicle approaches a traffic light, virtual triggers are used to initiate public transport prioritization. Here, the public transport vehicle communicates with the cooperative traffic management system via mobile radio. This prioritization system has the advantage that the investment in infrastructure is lower.
  • In local prioritization, as in central prioritization, the position and speed are determined via GNSS. Communication with the traffic light is carried out via WLAN from the OBU via an RSU installed in the traffic light. This prioritization system has the advantage that the functional reliability is higher and the latency times are lower.
  • The hybrid system enables both communication paths and combines the advantages of central and local public transport prioritization. Thus, the central system can be used for peripheral devices and the local system can be used for key public transport nodes.

Are these solutions already in use?

Nils Schmidt: Absolutely! Our solutions have already been tested in numerous cities around the world and are being used in Germany in Heilbronn, Böblingen, Sindelfingen, Kulmbach and Bietigheim-Bissingen, among others. The city of Kempten, which briefly presented its solution on Bayerischer Rundfunk, also uses our technology.

What advice do you now have for cities that are still using analog radio?

Nils Schmidt: When public transport prioritization systems were being tested, third parties were able to exert influence from the outside and thus actively influence traffic control. That this is theoretically possible was known to most cities. But the test showed once again that it can also happen in practice. Because communication via analog radio is not sufficiently protected against hacker attacks and no longer corresponds to the current state of IT security.
The good news is: With the digital systems I have just presented, cities can close this security gap today. So here’s my recommendation: transform you systems and protect your critical infrastructure. Better today than tomorrow.