This Week In Security: Traingate, DNS, And JMP Slides

Remember Dieselgate, the scandal where certain diesel vehicles would detect an emissions test, and run cleaner for it, “cheating” the test? Traingate may just put that one into perspective. We’ll tell the story from the beginning, but buckle up for a wild and astonishing ride. It all starts with Polish trains getting a maintenance overhaul. These trains were built by Newag, who bid on the maintenance contract, but the contract was won by another company, SPS. This sort of overhaul involves breaking each train into its components, inspecting, lubricating, etc, and putting it all back together again. The first train went through this process, was fully reassembled, and then refused to move. After exhausting all of the conventional troubleshooting measures, SPS brought in the hackers.
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Polish Train Manufacturer Threatens Hackers Who Unbricked Their Trains

A week ago we covered the story of a Polish train manufacturer who was caught using software to brick their products after they had been repaired by in independent railway workshop. Now 404 Media has a follow-up story with more information, including the news that the hackers responsible for the discovery are now being threatened by the manufacturer.

The more we learn about this story the more interesting it becomes, as the Newag trains in question began failing after service as far back as 2021. In desperation after services were affected by the number of non-functional units, an employee searched online for Polish hackers and found a group called Dragon Sector. The group was able to find the issue, and are now being threatened with legal action by the manufacturer, who are citing possible safety issues.

It’s clear from where we are standing that Newag have been caught red-handed in some extremely dubious practices, and seem to have little sense of how their actions might not be the best in terms of protecting their reputation. We are guessing that the European regulators will become very interested in this case, and that meanwhile the order books of a company which puts DRM in its trains will start to look very empty indeed. You can catch our original coverage as the story broke, here.

Thanks [JohnU] for the tip.

The Deere Disease Spreads To Trains

If the right-to-repair movement has a famous story, it’s the familiar green and yellow John Deere tractor. Farmers and mechanics have done their own repairs as long as there have been tractors, but more recent Deeres have been locked down such that only Deere-authorised agents can fix them. It’s a trend that has hurt the value of a second-had Deere, but despite that it appears to be spreading within the machinery world. Now there’s a parallel on Polish railways, as Polish-made Newag electric passenger trains have been found to give errors when serviced by non-Newag workshops.

At the heart of the problem are the PLCs which control all aspects of a modern rail traction system, which thanks to a trio of Poland and Germany based researchers have been found to play a range of nasty tricks. They’ll return bogus error codes after a set date which would presumably be reset by the official service, if the train has been laid up for a while, or even if they are detected via GPS to have visited a third-party workshop. Their work will be the subject of a talk at 37C3 which should be worth watching out for.

It will be especially interesting to juxtapose the reaction to this revelation with cases such as the Deere tractors, because of course Poland is part of the European Union. We’re not specialist EU competition lawyers, but we know enough to know that the EU takes a dim view of these types of practices and has been strong on the right to repair. Who knows, Polish trains may contribute further to the rights of all Europeans.