According to an article on CNN’s web site, many traffic lights in the US are easy to hack.
Earlier this summer researchers in Michigan demonstrated how easy it was to hack into the traffic lights in an undisclosed city.
The traffic lights in question are made by Econolite, the largest manufacturer of traffic controls in the U.S.
Used to be, the controllers were all mechanical and the only way to control them was to drive to the intersection, open the control box and do what you needed to do. Now they support WiFi and anyone with a laptop – and in the case of the undisclosed city above – the default userid and password which is published in the manual – can get in and change or shut down the traffic lights.
There is a standard in the U.S. for traffic controllers, NTCIP 1202, that all manufacturers support. It is also susceptible to the same problems if cities don’t change the default settings.
The interesting thing is that with a little work cities could make the traffic lights more secure. However, that requires money (time) and since most cities are strapped for cash, nothing is likely to change.
Until some hacker decides to shut down a city by turning off all the traffic lights or making the all red or whatever. All of a sudden folks will get religion.
According to an item in USA Today, counties in New York State not only snap pictures of your license plate, but keep them in a database with date-time and location information.
The data is accessible by police throughout the state as well has the Department of Homeland Security.
If you take a bunch of pictures of your license plate at different times, you can piece together a picture of where you go, what you do and who you connect with.
I suspect that the courts will say that when you are out and about you have no reasonable expectation of privacy. You and I might view it differently, but I doubt the courts will.
Here is the interesting part of this. While the cameras can be used to ferret out stolen cars, wanted people and expired license plates, that group, collectively, probably represents 1/100th of 1 percent of the pictures taken. The rest are people going out about their daily business, not committing a crime and being watched.
There is no central database; each county does their own thing and there are no statewide rules about it.
Here is a little data:
- Monroe, Albany, Westchester and New York City keep the data for 5 years.
- The New York State Police keeps the data for 5 years also. They have 140 cameras.
- Erie and Onondaga counties keep the data for 1 year.
- Monroe county had 3.7 million snapshots as of last week
- Onondaga county had 5.2 million as of a couple of weeks ago
- Albany county, where the state capital is, had 37 million pictures
- Erie county said they have the capacity to store 12 million pictures and plan to add more storage.
- Most agencies declined to say how many pictures they had.
In a sense, this is like the NSA – no rules, no watchdogs, no transparency – just trust us.
To me, that doesn’t seem like a really good plan – just saying!