Seeking security and safety in response to cyber attacks

Science topics November 2018 TransportInnovationEnergy

The railway system is constantly changing. Today, automation, remote control and train control functions are mainly based on radio communication technologies (e.g. GSM-R, LTE).

However, the use of such wireless technologies opens up the rail network and makes it dependent on robust communications. To protect it from malicious intrusion, IFSTTAR is carrying out work targeted on the security1  and safety2 of these systems.


To guarantee travel safety and security...

The security of rail transport systems is a critical strategic issue for ensuring efficient and safe travel. Safety and security measures have been implemented by industry, operators and the authorities to make the systems more attractive and to continue to meet public transport’s fundamental requirements for availability, accessibility, safety and openness. 

To meet these challenges, new technologies and the digital revolution are being implemented. They have to cope with new threats in the form of cyber attacks. The problem of cyber security, which was almost non-existent in the early 2000s, is omnipresent today because the interconnections between people, terminals and objects have made them into potential targets for malicious attacks.

… new risks must be identified …

In recent decades, trains, the railway signalling system and the train seat reservation system have become computerised. As a result, a train can now be seen as a network of mobile computers. Like any computer system, the railway computer system can be the target of cyber attacks. Various attacks have already occurred, for example, information theft, blackmail to obtain money3, a seizure of control of the switching system (in the case of the tram in the Polish city of Lodz).

In this context, rolling stock manufacturers and railway operators are counting on innovations that are robust and resilient to attacks. They are deploying new methods to analyse cyber risk and mechanisms to monitor and detect malicious activities. All the functions of rail transport must be protected, especially trackside to train communications  and railway signalling, which manages signals and switches.

Innovative cyber security solutions

IFSTTAR is working on the detection and prevention of two types of cyber attack. These are electromagnetic attacks that directly impact wireless networks and attacks on communication protocols. Our scientists are then able to propose innovative solutions.

For example, a dual communication system means that when a communication link is attacked the backup system is automatically activated.  This innovation guarantees continuity of service and means that trains can continue to run.



Seeking security and safety in response to cyber attacks - Ifsttar - Cybersecurity - credit Epictura

1 Safety is a question of preventing unintentional accidents, which most often involve technical, physical, chemical and environmental risks.

2 Security is a question of preventing deliberate actions such as malicious acts, terrorism and other antisocial behaviours.

3 On November 26, 2016, in San Francisco, the use of malicious software in the form of ransomware made bus, metro and tram ticket vending machines unavailable for a period of 24 hours.    Consult a newspaper article in Le Figaro at

4 Trackside to train communication allows the train to receive movement commands via wireless networks.



To find out more...

El Miloudi El Koursi, Virginie Deniau, Sébastien Ambellouis, Mohamed Ghazel, Christophe Gransart, Saïd Hayat, Marc Heddebaut, Cyril Meurie and Matthieu Perin, Quels axes pour la sûreté des transports collectifs?; Symposium Lambda Mu 21 « Maîtrise des risques et transformation numérique : opportunités et menaces », Reims  16-18 October 2018.

El Miloudi El Koursi, Jean-Luc Bruyelle, Richard Seddon and Conor O’Neill, “Design solutions to improve resilience of metro vehicle to blast events”

Journal: Transportation Research Part A: Policy and Practice , Volume 118, December 2018, Pages 280-291, 

Beugin, Julie; Legrand, Cyril; Marais, Juliette; berbineau, marion ; El-Koursi, El-Miloudi (2018) “Safety Appraisal of GNSS-Based Localization Systems Used in Train Spacing Control”,; IEEE ACCESS, VOL. XX, NO. XX, 2018