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Hardware Hacking Transportation

14-Year-Old Turns Tram System Into Personal Train Set 380

Posted by ScuttleMonkey
from the no-volume-control-on-this-tv dept.
F-3582 writes "By modifying a TV remote a 14-year-old boy from Lodz, Poland, managed to gain control over the junctions of the tracks. According to The Register the boy had 'trespassed in tram depots to gather information needed to build the device. [...] Transport command and control systems are commonly designed by engineers with little exposure or knowledge about security using commodity electronics and a little native wit.' Four trams derailed in the process injuring a number of passengers. The boy is now looking at 'charges at a special juvenile court of endangering public safety.'"
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14-Year-Old Turns Tram System Into Personal Train Set

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  • by yagu (721525) * <{moc.liamg} {ta} {ugayay}> on Friday January 11, 2008 @03:39PM (#22003392) Journal

    I know some kids who are extremely bright, curious, and for lack of a better description, "like to experiment". Any one of these I think could have done the same thing, and with completely innocent (though mischievous) intent. For playing with such big toys in such a fashion there should be repercussions. But the kids I know who also could have done something like this would be much more on track with thinking about how they're moving switches than about what moving those switches implies.

    However, I'm led to a different train of thought. What other systems are out there created in the same context, i.e., with little thought to external interference? I'm betting there are a "few". I wonder that in the process of designing something like this if we must pay more attention to the possibility of outsiders tinkering. I hope France's TGV has a bit more built in checks and balances than this. I hope the new Boeing 787 has more security built in than this [news.com.au].

    I actually think (and hope) this kid's imagination and curiosity somehow gets channeled rather than squashed. He actually sounds like he could be a contributor. Of course, he's at least grounded for the next month.

    • by show me altoids (1183399) * on Friday January 11, 2008 @03:45PM (#22003534)
      Reminds me of Johnny [cmu.edu].
    • by _spider_ (171782) on Friday January 11, 2008 @03:52PM (#22003666)
      I think we are bound to see more and more of this, after all, in this day and age, parents get their kids a Wii/xBox,PSx/etc in lieu of more challenging and creative toys probably a lot of us grew up with like Legos, Lincoln logs, erector sets, . . . things that I think are challenging and engaging.

      I'm proud for the kid in the sense that he put his mind to work, but at the same time, no points for lacking discretion, and a good sense of responsibility. And I don't think he should get a free pass just because he is a kid. If he is smart enough to do what he did, I think its entirely reasonable to assume that he had the capacity to know what the effects may be.
      • by cayenne8 (626475)
        I wonder how they caught him??

        I mean, if he was stealthy, I don't see how they'd catch him. Did he post a brag about it on MySpace or something?

        • by TamCaP (900777) on Friday January 11, 2008 @06:02PM (#22006046)
          I read on one of the Polish websites about this guy, and he contacted the local public transportation club and was asking way too many questions (either during a meeting or on a webforum). As he didn't join the club / pay the fees and he disappeared immediately, it seemed a bit awkward. When the trams started behaving strangely, the authorities suspected outside interference and contacted the club leader for any information. The club leader recalled this strange guy asking too many questions, and the rest is history.
    • by Kelbear (870538) on Friday January 11, 2008 @04:00PM (#22003808)
      14 year olds are young, but not so young to not realize that swapping train tracks around will affect what happens to trains when they reach that section of track. They might not follow that train of thought(pun intended) through to what the actual aftermath may look like, but it's no stretch of intelligence to conclude that a massive train moving at significant speeds will have a significant consequences when directed somewhere unexpectedly.

      Not that I'm recommending dire consequences for the boy, I'm just saying that there is probably some malicious intent here, though he probably didn't calculate the magnitude of his mischief either. I'm envisioning something like: "I'm gonna screw around with this and it'll be funny watching them try to fix i--*FOOM*...oh...wow...shit I better go".

      (And jeez, whoever designed that system that way is going to have a whole mess of flying poop coming their way).
      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        As a 14 year old I was quite aware of what would be involved with a train changing tracks, but that is because I actually had studied trains and was consciously aware of the physics involved in their movement. Someone who was focused on the field of electronics might not have considered the physical effects of tons of material being jerked sideways. More NASCAR, fewer video games.
      • Its a slow moving tram system, not a high speed commuter train.

        The only malice I'd imagine is curiosity.
        I probably would have done the same thing at that age just to see if it would work.
        Apparently the designers were so stupid that it did work.
      • by Lemmy Caution (8378) on Friday January 11, 2008 @04:46PM (#22004688) Homepage
        Many 14 year olds are angry, isolated, and misanthropic, in the throes of adolescent angst and frustration. He may have been indifferent at best to the harm he could have caused. There were times in my own adolescence I was angry and self-pitying to the point of sociopathy.
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by rbanffy (584143)
        This reminds me of a Mythbusters episode when they investigated how deadly a coin falling from the top of the Empire State Building would be to someone down on the street. They interviewed a lady that lives (or works) a couple dozen floors down, where most of the coins end up falling and she wondered what they had in mind - because they are either throwing money away for no reason or they are throwing it away because they are trying to get someone killed on the streets below.
      • by LordLucless (582312) on Friday January 11, 2008 @06:35PM (#22006616)
        That might have been possible the first time. But he did it FOUR times. After he saw the first tram derail, then the consequences would have been made abundantly clear. The fact that he continued shows that he either didn't care, or enjoyed it.
        • by Muhammar (659468) on Friday January 11, 2008 @09:50PM (#22009204)
          Never forget that these things are done first time to figure out if can be done at all - and the second, third and fourth time for the benefit of friends (and sometimes alone too, to fight the boredom). Sharing the exitement of discovery and earning the bragging rights is your reward. Many bright guys at the age 14 are pretty sociopathically disposed.

    • by Fozzyuw (950608)

      What other systems are out there created in the same context, i.e., with little thought to external interference?

      They don't want you to pull out your Radio Controller and start making the plane do loop-de-loops. =P

    • by Palal (836081) on Friday January 11, 2008 @04:03PM (#22003860) Homepage
      In the US many places with newer traffic signal circuitry (at least on the west coast) have something called Signal Pre-Emption [wikipedia.org].

      This allows emergency vehicles to by-pass traffic lights by turning them green. It uses an IR transponder on vehicles, and an IR receiver on lights. When a certain frequency (pulse) is sent out from the vehicle and picked up by the receiver, the light turns green.

      Before you try to build a device to do that I want to say 2 things:
      1. Devices are available on the 'black market', and
      2. Every time this signal gets sent, it gets recorded in a log. There have been cases of people getting caught using these and the fines are hefty.


      The same system is used, called "Signal Priority" can be used by buses to hold the light green or trigger an early green in various circumstances. (Basically this involves sending out a frequency that's different from Emergency vehicles.

      I bet that Lodz uses a similar technology for its trams, but maybe they thought nobody could figure it out, so they simply went with security via obscurity (or whatever the term for it is).

      Czech Republic has a single system (as in same system type, not same transponders) in the entire country for its trams and trolley buses and uses something similar to your car key remote.

      If anyone manages to figure out how the signal pre-emption works, please post details online :).
      • by Daniel_Staal (609844) <DStaal@usa.net> on Friday January 11, 2008 @04:20PM (#22004170)
        Some places have a more inteligent system: The signal turns the light Red (in all directions), and the emergency vechicles just go through the red lights.

        Works just as well, and less suceptable to hacks. (Not impossible of course, but less chance of people doing it for their own benifit.)
        • by Lao-Tzu (12740)
          The downside to that approach is that emergency vehicles encounter cars stopped at a red light at every intersection. Where I live, drivers panic when an emergency vehicle approaches, move their car six inches towards the side of the road, and don't realize they should go through a red light to clear the roadway.
          • by Evil Adrian (253301) on Friday January 11, 2008 @04:35PM (#22004514) Homepage
            Those people that panic and don't move promptly should have their licenses revoked.

            This whole thread is pissing me off. "He was young and didn't know what he was doing..." BS. If the kid is smart enough to hack into a system, he's easily smart enough to know how much a train weighs and what damage a train derailment will cause. Send this kid to jail!

            Secondly, I hate when people excuse bad driving as normal. It's not acceptable. If you don't clear the intersection when emergency vehicles are coming, you shouldn't be driving, period. If you consistently drive 5mph under the speed limit, your license should be revoked. If you can't PARK YOUR CAR without extreme effort, license REVOKED! If you took licenses away from all the people that shouldn't have them for safety reasons, there would be 50% fewer people on the road, AT LEAST.

            I hate people.
            • Road rage much? (Score:5, Insightful)

              by PhxBlue (562201) on Friday January 11, 2008 @05:39PM (#22005616) Homepage Journal

              Now, I'm all for people driving the speed limit, maybe a little more. But legally, the speed limit is an upper limit, not a lower limit. And people who drive like the speed limit is just a guideline tend, in my experience, to be more prone to road rage than those who actually obey it.

              This whole thread is pissing me off. ... I hate people.

              Maybe you should consider a class in anger management. Or take a deep breath and put on some jazz music when you get in heavy traffic.

            • by ShieldW0lf (601553) on Friday January 11, 2008 @06:38PM (#22006680) Journal
              Secondly, I hate when people excuse bad driving as normal. It's not acceptable. If you don't clear the intersection when emergency vehicles are coming, you shouldn't be driving, period. If you consistently drive 5mph under the speed limit, your license should be revoked. If you can't PARK YOUR CAR without extreme effort, license REVOKED! If you took licenses away from all the people that shouldn't have them for safety reasons, there would be 50% fewer people on the road, AT LEAST.

              So, if more than 50% of the people are kept off the road because you don't like how they drive, perhaps they should round YOU up, get rid of YOU, and drive as they see fit without interference from micromanaging busy bodies who think we're obligated to operate in a way that you can predict and write down?

              You know, there have been numerous suppressed studies demonstrating that road rules and signs actually make driving less safe because they give a false sense of security. I don't have a link at my fingertips, but there have been several of them done. The safest way to structure roads is to remove all signs and controls, and force people to remain interactive with the environment rather than being hypnotized into routine. The reason the highly structured and regulated road systems continue is because they are an industry with an interest in self-preservation, and a cash cow for government, not because they are a good way to do things.
          • True, though the systems I've seen that operated this way had another light (flashing strobe, all directions) to indicate that an emergency vechicle was coming.

            No system is perfect, of course. I like the red-all-ways because it is closest to what you want: Nobody move but the emergency vechiles, everyone else get out of the way.
          • by cp.tar (871488) <cp.tar.bz2@gmail.com> on Friday January 11, 2008 @05:03PM (#22004996) Journal

            The downside to that approach is that emergency vehicles encounter cars stopped at a red light at every intersection. Where I live, drivers panic when an emergency vehicle approaches, move their car six inches towards the side of the road, and don't realize they should go through a red light to clear the roadway.

            I've heard emergency drivers say: "If you don't know what to do and where to go when you see/hear an emergency vehicle, simply stop. It's much easier to manage your way around a halted vehicle than around one whose driver is panicking."

            • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

              by sn00ker (172521)

              The downside to that approach is that emergency vehicles encounter cars stopped at a red light at every intersection. Where I live, drivers panic when an emergency vehicle approaches, move their car six inches towards the side of the road, and don't realize they should go through a red light to clear the roadway.

              I've heard emergency drivers say: "If you don't know what to do and where to go when you see/hear an emergency vehicle, simply stop. It's much easier to manage your way around a halted vehicle th

      • This allows emergency vehicles to by-pass traffic lights by turning them green. It uses an IR transponder on vehicles, and an IR receiver on lights. When a certain frequency (pulse) is sent out from the vehicle and picked up by the receiver, the light turns green.

        Here's something a little funny about those systems.

        My father-in-law is an ex-firefighter (just retired at the end of '07) who drove the truck for a couple of years before being promoted to Captain. He absolutely despises the system due to it's unr
    • by Khyber (864651)
      "What other systems are out there created in the same context, i.e., with little thought to external interference?"

      Our defense and nuclear systems, for one example. I'm sure a /. search would turn up many such incidents.
    • by Anonymous Coward
      ...heinously vulnerable systems are the ones who should get locked up in jail.
    • by ceoyoyo (59147)
      He's not a five year old. By fourteen if you don't have a decent handle on consequences then you need to feel some to get you caught up with everyone else. When I was 14 it was old enough to get a learning drivers license. I think they changed that now, but it's still only two years younger than getting a full drivers license, entitling you to pilot a multithousand ton piece of ambulatory steel at high speed. Fourteen is also a common age to start being paid to watch other people's children, ie babysitt
      • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

        by towerdave (739384)

        entitling you to pilot a multithousand ton piece of ambulatory steel at high speed.
        What were you driving? An aircraft carrier!?! Multi-thousand to... Oh you meant pounds. I get it. TD
    • I know some kids who are extremely bright, curious, and for lack of
      a better description, "like to experiment". Any one of these I think
      could have done the same thing, and with completely innocent
      (though mischievous) intent. For playing with such big toys in
      such a fashion there should be repercussions. But the kids I know who
      also could have done something like this would be much more on track
      with thinking about how they're moving switches than about what moving
      those switches implies.

      I'm all for helping creativity grow, but the problem here was that he wasn't thinking about the passengers of these machines he was fucking around with.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by fm6 (162816)

      I actually think (and hope) this kid's imagination and curiosity somehow gets channeled rather than squashed. He actually sounds like he could be a contributor.
      That can actually said about almost any adolescent. The same qualities that make them hard for adults to live with are the ones that they use to create their own adulthood. The trick is to allow them to go through this stage without hurting anybody.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by luder (923306) *

      What other systems are out there created in the same context, i.e., with little thought to external interference?

      Here's a video of a german teenager messing up with road information panels [ongein.nl]. Apparently, he got a copy of the software used by authorities to change those displays. It seems that anyone in the possession of that software and a wireless card can do it. Maybe someone who knows german can give more details.

  • wtf (Score:5, Insightful)

    by JohnFluxx (413620) on Friday January 11, 2008 @03:40PM (#22003414)
    It should be the enginners and their bosses that should be the ones facing criminal charges.
    • Re:wtf (Score:5, Insightful)

      by MightyMartian (840721) on Friday January 11, 2008 @03:46PM (#22003556) Journal
      No bloody kidding. Yeah, the kid was doing what he shouldn't have, but who the hell develops something as critical as switch controls for a $#@!@% tram that can be so easily overridden. I don't buy this "not exposed" BS. That's why, in the old days of manual switches, you had padlocks on them to stop the earlier, low-tech version of this stunt.

      Once they've finished throwing the book at this kid, someone ought to look at getting him into a decent technical school. Maybe, in a decade, he can replace the retarded engineers.
      • There are two entire generations who have been disenfranchised from their society, and they won't have any connection to it in the foreseeable future because economics, politics and a population bust have seen to it that there is no peaceful way to have any influence or involvement.

        Young people resent the system because in all material ways, it really does disempower them and keep them small and subservient.

        The older generation appreciate it because, for them, it does the opposite. For them, it is an expre
      • by Gertlex (722812)

        Once they've finished throwing the book at this kid, someone ought to look at getting him into a decent technical school. Maybe, in a decade, he can replace the retarded engineers.

        He's just as "retarded" as the engineers if he indeed did not stop to think of the consequences (derailing of trams) of his hack. Granted, it might well be that with a bit of proper training he'll pay much more attention to the effects of solutions, and end up being the better engineer.

    • Re:wtf (Score:4, Interesting)

      by mea37 (1201159) on Friday January 11, 2008 @04:06PM (#22003906)
      If by that you mean that the engineers (responsible for design of the system) and their bosses should also be facing criminal charges, then yes, they should.

      That doesn't mean what the boy did was ok, or that he shouldn't be facing charges, though. While he is young and might not be held to the same standard of foresight as an adult, still his behavior cannot be excused as merely impulsive considering the time and effort involved. Even if he isn't held fully accountable for endangering lives, still he had to know he would be causing considerable disruption.

      I'm curious, though, about the details of the tram system in question. The article describes a tram operator trying to go one way while the track pushed him the other way... so I assume these are not strictly rail-following vehicles (like trains) that have only an accelerator and a brake?
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by eebly (7752)
        Many tram systems have operator-controlled switches. In the old days (and still in some places, like Prague) switches are set by an operator manually. This system appears to basically be the same thing through proximity IR control.
        On railroads, switches are mostly controlled from a central dispatch office.
    • by Anonymous Coward
      Well, yes and no. Just give a bit of serious thought to the issue... I'm at work, have to AC.

      It sounds as though the system worked of infrared pulse encoding, and that is why he could use a modified television remote. Imagine you are the one designing this (probably in the 1970's or 1980's...) It is generally desirable to keep things simple to ensure they actually *work* -- that is, having a rolling code that may be out of sync while having a signalling train hurtle toward the junction at 80 mph is not
    • Why is it whenever their is a story like this on /. people come running out of the woodwork to say how the designers should be the ones to face criminal charges. Why do we defend the "precious snowflakes" when they were the ones that consciously and willfully committed the act? Unless they can find proof where the designers and engineers said "Hey lets make this system easy to hack so we can watch some kid play havoc with our system and maybe even get some one killed", I would be hard pressed to say they ar
    • by pilgrim23 (716938)
      that is why the kid is facing the law; he is guilty of showing the Railroad People to be damn fools and it is AGAINST THE LAW to point out the Emperor's new clothes..
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by imbaczek (690596)
      I live in Poland; news sources say that they indeed are under investigation.
  • by Sciros (986030) on Friday January 11, 2008 @03:40PM (#22003418) Journal
    I have $20 that says at least one TV crime-drama-whatever show will have a plot where a bad guy tries to plot some train crash by messing with a TV remote, or better yet, video game controller.

    This kid does deserve to get in trouble, though, big-time. You don't go around derailing trams, that's not cool.
    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by Spudtrooper (1073512)
      Video games don't make trains crash, they just make kids fat!
    • by ashridah (72567)
      Didn't you see the Italian Job or Die Hard 4?
    • by dgatwood (11270) on Friday January 11, 2008 @04:08PM (#22003966) Journal

      This kid does deserve to get in trouble, though, big-time. You don't go around derailing trams, that's not cool.

      I'm surprised nobody has asked the obvious question. Switches normally switch between two tracks. How does switching a train to a different track cause it to derail? Collide, sure, but derail? Sounds like a design problem to me... or a whole lot of design problems if it is possible for it to switch when a train is in the middle of the switch, as I suspect occurred. There should be safety interlocks to prevent switching from even being possible as long as a weight sensor at the switch is depressed.

      It strikes me that this kid not only found a security flaw in the system, but also found at least one very serious safety flaw that could have occurred due to electronics glitches even if he hadn't done this. It could have ben a lot worse, particularly if those same switching systems are used for any high-speed trains....

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by anno1602 (320047)
        Speculation: An alternative explanation would be that the two curves were of different diameter, and the driver intended to take the larger-diameter one, traveling at a speed too high for the sharper curve the tram ended up taking. Tram lines sometimes take pretty sharp turns.
      • by mi (197448)

        How does switching a train to a different track cause it to derail? Collide, sure, but derail?

        First, the alternative track may not be "right" for the tram — old/decrepit, too curvy for the tram's usual speed, etc.

        Second the driver(s) may have panicked and done something stupid because of the sudden change of direction...

      • by joebok (457904) on Friday January 11, 2008 @04:55PM (#22004852) Homepage Journal
        Have you never had a train set? A switch will have one pair of rails on one side, and two pairs of rails on the other. If you are coming to the switch from the side with one pair, you won't get derailed - you'll just go to one or the other output tracks. But if you are on the other side of the switch it has to be set right to get your train back to the single pair side. If the switch is set to route traffic from the other side rail then you would derail if you didn't stop.

        I'm sure there are visual indicators if you are heading into a situation where the track ahead isn't switched correctly (my train set had red and green lights), but it is easy to see how there could have been derailments if somebody was running amok with the switches.
  • by KaiserSoze (154044) on Friday January 11, 2008 @03:41PM (#22003460) Homepage
    Good thing he wasn't in the United States, where he'd be charged with terrorism, waterboarded, sodomized with a broom handle and thrown in Guantanamo Bay forever. The Department of Homeland Security would then increase the Train Flight Security Awareness Threat to Indigo, and the attorney general would trumpet the great work that the US Government is doing to prevent further Terrorist Train Derailments.
  • by Optic7 (688717) on Friday January 11, 2008 @03:44PM (#22003500)
    Does it really take special security training for engineers to realize that controlling train junctions with TV remote controls (or close enough) might be a bad idea? Where's the whatcouldpossiblygowrong tag when you need it?
    • They're engineers, what do you expect? They designed a system that made it easy to change the junctions without someone having to physically throw a switch to change the tracks. More than likely, no one, including the people who provide the specifications for this device, thought about security. The idea was to make the job of switching tracks easier.

      Which succeeded.
      • by kalirion (728907)
        Exactly. Previously, anybody could throw the switch. Now, anybody can use a remote. Not much difference, really.
    • Does it really take special security training

      It's hard to see how anyone with a brain could have not considered the implication of a stray signal setting off the switch actuator, potentially causing loss of life.

      I own an area of land which I've thought, somewhat idly, would suit an aerial tramway for moving building materials onto the site. The first thing that crossed my mind was not was how to engineer the rigging. That's textbook stuff. No, my first concern was whether it would be possible to buil

      • by russotto (537200)
        This wasn't a stray signal. Even TV remotes are engineered to prevent stray signals from working. The system wasn't engineered to prevent generation of malicious signals, probably because that wasn't in the spec.
  • by ddrichardson (869910) on Friday January 11, 2008 @03:46PM (#22003544) Homepage

    Here is the article in the Telegraph [telegraph.co.uk].

    I particularly enjoyed the phrase:

    The incident is the latest in which "hackers" - many of them young computer experts - have broken into computer systems.

    As they then list two incedents since 1999 and the Boeing 787 concern.

  • Maybe he should play more video games [beryllium.ca]?
  • Needs a challenge (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Thelasko (1196535)
    Sounds like this kid was not adequately challenged by his school. At least that's what the story leads me to believe. If I was the judge I would let him off on the condition that he goes to a school where his curiosity will be encouraged but given enough direction so he doesn't get into more trouble.
    • Yes, of course. Not being adequately challenged at school means it's ok to go and screw with people's safety. The son of a bitch was fourteen. If he knew enough to do what he did, he knew enough science to figure out the results.
  • Video (Score:5, Funny)

    by Nutty_Irishman (729030) on Friday January 11, 2008 @03:52PM (#22003660)
    Local authorities released this video capturing the culprits in their crime: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jiAk5vqvn3A [youtube.com]
  • by Critical Facilities (850111) on Friday January 11, 2008 @03:52PM (#22003664) Homepage

    on Tuesday when a driver attempting to steer his vehicle to the right was involuntarily taken to the left. As a result the rear wagon of the train jumped the rails and collided with another passing tram


    IANATE (I Am Not A Tram Expert), but if it was on RAILS, how or why would you STEER it?
    • train tracks have switches/points in order to take one route or another.
      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        by MistrBlank (1183469)
        And my guess is the conductor normally controls these switches with remote... not the kid outside of the train with a hacked TV remote.
    • Re:OK, I have to ask (Score:5, Informative)

      by ThreeGigs (239452) on Friday January 11, 2008 @04:15PM (#22004074)
      Tram line 21 runs east to west.
      Tram line 19 runs east to west on 21's tracks, then turns onto a north-south track heading south.

      Driver of 19 sets his left-straight-right turn lever to broadcast "right".
      Kid overrides with a left, lead car turns left.
      Kid stops overriding, the junction again sees the signal on the tram to switch to turn right, and the second car goes right, causing a derailment.

      In the US, most remote junction switches have a fail-safe that prevents the tracks from switching if there's a car over the junction, thus preventing driver error or malicious external elements from causing a derailment by making the train go in 2 directions at once. Apparently no such fail-safe is present on the systems in Lodz (pronounced 'woodj' in Polish).
      • by Bryansix (761547)
        So then one HAS to ask; why have the switches at all? It would be a lot safter if each tram route had it's own track. Not only that but centralized control over the space in between the trams would make it even safer. Not only that, it also makes stations easier. If one station serves two routes then the place to get on each route would be different from each other and hence one physical location at a station would always correspond to the same tram route. Just thinking out loud here. Isn't this how the Und
        • by Triv (181010)
          I can't tell if this is a serious question or not. I (may) have been trolled. I (may) have lost. I (might be asked to) have a nice day.
          • It's more expensive - you'd be running more actual track on lines that service the same areas.
          • It's more expensive - you'd be building stations and track beds much larger than they'd need to be.
          • It's more expensive - now every train has to service every line instead of having a centralized line that services many with various offshoots.
          • if something goes wrong you
  • It's fun to hear about these kinds of events if no one got hurt. But, at th same time it's rather frightening the though of someone with an intellect like that with a lot of time on their hands and no productive outlet to use it.
    Think what could be accomplished if people like this where given access to what they needed and had the same motivation when it came to curing cancer.
    • by Jerf (17166)

      But, at th same time it's rather frightening the though of someone with an intellect like that with a lot of time on their hands and no productive outlet to use it.
      What evidence do you have that there was "no productive outlet to use it"? The kid had the time and the knowhow to do this, and you think this was somehow his only choice for expression?

      I doubt that.
  • Why is it that... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday January 11, 2008 @03:53PM (#22003686)
    Why is it that facility operators, be it trains, power plants, oil refineries, or anything have pathetic security, and when something does happen, they blame it totally on the perp who likely never had to confront even a single lock, much less a guard?

    Makes me wonder if countries should have a special regulatory team whose job it is to attempt break ins on a regular basis to various areas, and levy fines to organizations failing compliance. Only problem is areas where people shoot to kill... telling a tiger team from a genuine trespasser/burglar/criminal before pulling the trigger.
    • by Kamokazi (1080091)

      Only problem is areas where people shoot to kill... telling a tiger team from a genuine trespasser/burglar/criminal before pulling the trigger.

      If the team is seriously concerned about being shot, I think it's safe to give that facility a stamp of approval without even attempting a break in.
  • The whole safety department of that tram line should be fired. A system hackable via a TV remote and unencyrpted signals subject to relay attacks should not be deployed ever. They should be sacked for having allowed it. Same goes for the "traffic light" systems here in the US with the same flaws. Course I didn't RTFA so maybe he even cracked the encryption. In which case only sack the designer of the encryption.
  • by Animats (122034) on Friday January 11, 2008 @04:22PM (#22004208) Homepage

    This is a street tram switching system similar to the Elektroline [elektroline.cz] system. It's not a full signalling system with interlocking. The tram driver is in control, and has an RF transmitter which can control switches. The current generation, the "TRAMVYS 6K", is an RF transmitter on 433.9 or 868.35 MHz. Normal range is very short, about 2M, with the transmitter down on the front truck of the tram and the receiver buried in the road. But it could probably be triggered by someone at the side of the street with a suitable transmitter. This system is interlocked so that the switch can't change position underneath a tram.

    That's current technology. Older systems are much dumber [google.com]. Some of this stuff is at the garage-door-opener level of RF devices. The Lodz tram system dates from 1898, so they have lots of legacy trackwork.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by GiMP (10923)
      It is interesting that you note the distance required. It isn't mentioned at the Register, but the Polish news sources have said that he was riding inside of the trams that were being controlled.
  • I have a hunch they decided there is no money in building highly insecure hardware systems and moved on to write highly insecure software systems. No prizes for guessing their current employer.
  • Let's all do a reality check.

    1. Engineering was likely given a number of constraints that can not be ignored. For example, build it in 6 months at a final BOM cost of $Y.

    2. Picture a small hill with the railroad purchasing agents on the top. On one side is the manufacturer of switch, on the other, the boy. Sh!t rolls downhill onto both parties.

    It's a pity the boy has to be made an example of.
  • by DigitAl56K (805623) on Friday January 11, 2008 @04:37PM (#22004566)
    Four trams derailed in the process injuring a number of passengers.

    I know he hacked this together out of a remote control, but that's a horribly inefficient process he created - surely it's possible to injure the passengers without derailing the trams! ;)
  • Between "Die Hard 3" and "Unbreakable," you just KNOW Bruce Willis and Samuel Jackson had to be involved in this somehow.
  • Poland is using IR to remote control their tram switches? That's just asking for trouble.
  • If he had done this in the US he'd either have been shot to death or in Gitmo by now.

    If only this could somehow be spun into a funny joke, but it is too close to the truth, unfortunately.

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