Could hackers take down a city?

Could hackers take down a city?

First the power goes out. It’s not clear what’s gone wrong, but cars are starting to jam the streets — the traffic light are down. And something seems to be going haywire with the subways, too.

No one can get to work. And even if they could, what would they do? A cyberattack has driven the city to a halt.

Of course, that hasn’t happened yet — and to a lot of people the idea of malicious hackers taking down a city still sounds like a bad movie plot. But it may not be as crazy as it sounds, according to security experts who say cities’ increasing dependence on technology and the haphazard ways those systems sometimes connect could leave them vulnerable to someone looking to cause chaos.

Cities, like the rest of the world, now rely on a lot of computers. But the systems used to make even the most sensitive systems run can still contain security flaws. While the risk of an actual attack may not be imminent, the threat is looming large over cybersecurity researchers who warn that local governments aren’t prepared.

“The potential attack surfaces of a city is a huge challenge,” said David Raymond, deputy director of Virginia Tech’s IT Security Lab. “The digital pathways between all of the entities and organizations in a city is often not well managed. In many cases, there’s no overarching security architecture or even understanding of holistically what the city looks like.”

Researchers have already discovered vulnerabilities with new technology being used in many cities.

Last year, researchers found that traffic monitoring system used in dozens of U.S. cities, including Washington, D.C., could allow a malicious hacker to falsify traffic data and manipulate stop lights. District officials say the city is reviewing the security of its traffic sensors. A few years ago, two Los Angeles traffic engineers pleaded guilty to hacking into the city’s traffic system and slowing down traffic at key intersections in support of a labor protest.

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