Modern railway and MRT networks — digitization and cybersecurity

Contributed Op-Ed; views in this article are the author’s.


By Sedat Sezgün, Group Vice President, Rail Business Segment, HIMA

Digitization in the rail industry (includes the likes of MRT/MTR and high-speed rail) is changing safety requirements.

This calls for significant technological advancements to keep pace with the new market. Cybercrime is perhaps the foremost challenge, but there are also many other aspects to consider, such as innovation cycles and communication between devices. What must companies do to ensure they’re protected?

The digital age is the era of inter-connectivity. Machines can be connected to one another and even to people. Five key drivers of digitization are used to create these intelligent networks. These are IoT, machine learning (AI), Industry 4.0, virtual reality, and autonomous systems. This development requires new types of safety technology.

Standardized communication is key

To defend applications against cyberattacks, it is vital to minimize, or even eliminate, opportunities for people to access systems. We have seen cases in healthcare where opportunities for people to access systems led to data breaches, and rail networks are no different.

Therefore, to reduce the opportunity for people to access systems, we can implement closed safety systems. We identified cybercrime as an issue early on and designed COTS (commercial off the shelf) controllers with this in mind. Such controllers for rail safety utilize their own operating systems for applications, making it incredibly difficult for hackers to gain access. COTS technologies only use the functions required for the relevant application, and distributed control systems are separate from one another. As a result, if the communication processor is attacked, safe operation continues.

Standardization of communication interfaces could spark huge developments in rail technology and automation. By creating consistent communication, organizations could connect rail networks across entire nations, or even internationally. But consolidating different communication protocols presents challenges. Therefore, controllers should be designed so that they fulfill the requirements for standardizing communication and ensuring continuous safety.

Innovation Cycles Undergoing Change

As a result of the rapid advancement in software over the past two decades, innovation cycles have become significantly shorter. If safety technology requires long-term availability, updates are necessary in short intervals. Modern controllers must ensure that updates are simple and quick to perform. Additionally, it should be possible to map hardware functions using software. Backward compatibility would also be ideal in order to combine older systems with newer ones to ensure they are future proof. A modular design makes it possible for users to exchange certain functional modules or add completely new ones – even during operation.

A clear strategy for the digital future is required

Regardless of whether it’s standardization, migrating central functions to the cloud, autonomous trains, or smart supply chains and maintenance models, digitization will trigger fundamental new developments in the rail sector. It still remains to be seen who is fully on track for future success. (HIMA)

Featured image: A Light Rail Transit (LRT) in the Philippines. (SDN file photo)

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