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OFF BEAT: Traffic hackers get the green light


Whether hackers are looking to shave time off their commutes or pull off a gold heist like Michael Caine's character in 1969's “The Italian Job” (or Mark Wahlberg's character in the 2003 remake), authorities can add “tampering with traffic lights” to the growing list of cyber risks.

A team of University of Michigan researchers who — with permission from local authorities — took over nearly 100 wirelessly controlled traffic lights said they discovered “major weaknesses” while looking into traffic control systems.

The researchers hacked into the traffic lights, proving that “an adversary can control traffic infrastructure to cause disruption, degrade safety, or gain an unfair advantage,” they wrote in a paper published this month titled “Green Lights Forever: Analyzing the Security of Traffic Infrastructure.”

“The network is accessible to attackers due to the lack of encryption,” and “devices on the network lack secure authentication due to the use of default usernames and passwords,” they wrote.

Ways to increase security and prevent hackers from tampering with the system include enabling encryption on wireless networks and changing the default credentials on network devices, the researchers wrote.

In the meantime, tech-savvy drivers can try their luck: The wireless systems already are used in more than 40 states.