Hacked public transport tickets – are they really a big issue?

The code on Sydney’s public transport tickets has been cracked by a group of students, reports the SMH. There’s a certain breathlessness to the article as if now our trains, ferries and buses are about to be deluged with print-at-home tickets.

This put me in mind of an experience I had many years ago. Against my recommendation, the company I was working for hired some white-hat hackers to test our IT security. After several days of expensive work they reported back that it was possible to do us damage. With some very complicated maneuvering it might be possible for a competitor to bring our servers down for a day; not likely, but possible if they had skilled hackers at their disposal. I silently stood and walked to the window and beckoned them to join me. With eyebrows raised I pointed to the electricity substation that sat by the side of the road outside and funneled the electricity for the entirety of our building. “Or they could hit that with a sledgehammer…?”

The point being you don’t need to crack the security on the public transport system’s tickets to evade paying fares. Bus drivers rarely stop people getting on when their ticket makes a funny sound in the machine, there’s absolutely no need to have a ferry ticket other than at Circular Quay. If I were Transport NSW I’d be far more worried by that than the possibility of someone having the skills and wherewithal to crack the codes on their tickets.

It’s amazing what drama the addition of a bit of technology can add to a story.

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