Security News

Researchers Use Simple Technique to Hack Traffic Lights

How many times have you watched a movie where baddies cause havoc by tampering with traffic lights and thought, "Yeah, right!"

Well, two Dutch security researchers have done just that, although not quite to the scale of a Hollywood blockbuster.

Rik van Duijn and Wesley Neelen, co-founders of cybersecurity firm Zolder, showed during a virtual presentation at the recent Defcon hacker conference how they were able to hack traffic signals used by cyclists in the Netherlands.

In order to make bicycle travel smoother, the Netherlands has apps that alert smart traffic signals when a cyclist is approaching an intersection, allowing the lights are then able to change to green if need be.

The researchers were able to fool the system by sending fake data to an app.

"Specifically, we found a way in two different platforms, that allows us to successfully fake a continuous flow of bicyclists that turns the cyclist traffic light instantly green or decreases the time to green. And we could do it from any location," said the researchers.

The researchers conducted their test in the Western Netherlands city of Dordrecht. However, smart traffic lights exist in 10 municipalities across the Netherlands and, while the researchers didn't cause the sort of chaos seen in movies, it could prove an annoyance for drivers and more widespread issues if the system is adopted on a larger scale.

The Netherlands is famous for its use of the bicycle and, as of 2018, had 23 million of the two-wheeled-transport and over a quarter of all trips were made by bicycle. The road system and its traffic signals are built to accommodate 35,000km of cycling infrastructure in a country of 41,543 square kilometres (USA = 9,833,517sq/km, Australia = 7,692,024sq/km, UK = 243,610sq/km).

Rik van Duijn and Wesley Neelen speaking at Defcon.

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