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Under-pressure Swiss Railways focuses on cybersecurity

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The Federal Railways is Switzerland's national railway operator. The Alpine nation is famed for its dense and reliable rail network.

(Keystone / Alessandro Della Valle)

The Swiss Federal Railways plans to set up a cyberdefence unit to protect critical safety infrastructures from hackers, according to Schweiz am Wochenende. The troubled company was a focal point of the weekend press.

A railway spokesperson told the German-language newspaper that the railway’s computer system is exposed to hacker attacks almost daily.

Large companies have multiple entry points that can be exploited by hackers, notes the newspaper. Sometimes internet bandits use malware to block a computer network and try to extort money. Sometimes they send emails with malicious code and try to penetrate systems to eke out sensitive data. And sometimes they overwhelm a website with so many requests that it gets paralysed. This is known as a DDoS attack – which the Federal Railways experienced in 2016.external link

Digitalisation has long permeated rail operations in many aspects.

"Automation and networking technologies" meant that safety-critical systems "are increasingly exposed to cyber threats and must be appropriately protected," Federal Railways computer scientists warn in a report cited by Schweiz am Wochenende.

To boost information technology safety, the Federal Railways will set up a separate unit dedicated to cyberdefence. The company is seeking strategic partners, as revealed by a public tender published on a procurement platform. The Federal Railways will grow its staff to fill the new unit and wants to "further train” current employees.

Jobs at risk

Meanwhile, the SonntagsZeitungexternal link newspaper warns thousands of jobs at the Federal Railways are at risk. The newspaper refers to a study carried out by ETH Zurichexternal link with the consulting firm PwCexternal link. It estimates that the Federal Railways could lose up to 3,400 of its current 26,400 employees due to digitalisation and automation.

The Federal Railways has been going through a difficult period, marked by the fatal accident of a train conductor last month, growing passenger complaints over overcrowded trains and occasional delays, in addition to an uptick in staff grumbling and the resignation of CEO Andreas Meyer.

Transport Minister Simonetta Sommaruga told Swiss public television SRF external linkthat she is considering providing more funds to the Federal Railways for maintenance.

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