Millions of passengers are opting for rail travel every day across the globe. With numbers continuing to rise, rail operators rely heavily on smart digital systems to manage passengers and train infrastructure. But with the increased dependence on internet-based information management, railway communications are now becoming a target for cybersecurity threats.
Siddhi Gangar, a telecom engineer and intern at our Genoa office, is working on a project that explores securing rail communication networks through blockchain technology. Siddhi explains this cross-industry innovation and shares how Hitachi Rail’s international student program helped her get involved in this exciting project.
After completing my Bachelor of Engineering, at the University of Mumbai, India, and gaining experience working in the security & surveillance sector, I decided to pursue a Masters of Engineering Technology in Security and Strategy at the University of Genoa, Italy.
An internship was part of the curriculum, so I was excited to attend a Hitachi Rail open-day program hosted at my university. The program was well organised and provided great learning experiences. The day included a presentation & a tour of the Genoa facility to help us learn more about the company. Followed by group and individual activities in the afternoon and HR interviews for selected applicants.
I had an excellent selection experience with the support of the Prof. Agostino Bruzzone at the University of Genoa and Hitachi Rail R&D and HR teams.
I was delighted to be one of the few chosen from my university to intern at Hitachi Rail. As it allows me to work in an environment where my life motto of "Technology Changes for the Betterment of Society and the Planet" can be achieved. The project also aligns with my interest in learning more about cybersecurity.
The project: How Blockchain technology could help cybersecurity in Railway Systems
To explain in simple terms, a blockchain is a distributed database or ledger shared among a computer network's nodes. As a database, a blockchain stores information electronically in a digital format.
Blockchains are best known for maintaining a secure and decentralised record of transactions. The innovation of a blockchain is that it guarantees the fidelity and security of a record of data and generates trust without the need for a trusted third party.
Blockchain technology achieves decentralised security through new blocks, which are always stored linearly and chronologically. They are always added to the “end” of the blockchain. After a block has been added to the end of the blockchain, it is extremely difficult to go back and alter the contents of the block unless a majority of the network has reached a consensus to do so.
That’s because each block contains its own hash, the hash of the block before it, and the previously mentioned timestamp. Hash codes are created by a mathematical function that turns digital information into a string of numbers and letters. If that information is edited in any way, then the hash code changes as well.
Blockchain increases the security of transactions so that fraud can be avoided. It is now being explored in the transportation industry.
Since 2013 rail experts have been discussing network rail technical strategy and the areas requiring innovation in railways, such as characteristics of a cryptographically secured transaction, integrity, transparency, and cheap and efficient transactions.
Why is securing rail communications critical? What happens when there are cyberattacks on rail networks?
Passengers during this time cannot make reservations or receive updates on delays. Public transport operators can get affected. As a result, train traffic had to be managed manually. The email addresses and travel details of people who use free Wi-Fi provided at railway stations can get exposed online. The database containing millions of records, including personal contact details and dates of birth, can get breached. Hit by a malware attack, networks allow attackers to steal sensitive company data and confidential documents.
Securing networks is so important because it impacts the lives of millions of innocent citizens who use the most environmentally friendly public transport - rail transport. This project has given me access to professionals and experience at the cutting edge of technology in the rail industry.
The importance of support
Being a foreign student, I was a little apprehensive. Still, the Hitachi team has made the whole experience so enjoyable and welcoming.
Working with Senior Innovation Engineer, Lorenzo Motta has been brilliant he has guided me through the project due to his extensive knowledge of the subject – he has even supported me as I learn Italian!
Chief Technical Officer (CTO) - Lob Rail Control, Leonardo Impagliazzo, has also been a great support and is driving the project forward throughout Hitachi Rail.
The whole experience has been fantastic and memorable, mainly due to the Hitachi Team!
If you want to work on exciting innovation projects visit our careers website.