City having college students perform cyberattacks to find vulnerabilities

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The City of Pittsburgh is taking steps to protect drivers from a possible cyberattack.

Last year, the city partnered with Carnegie Mellon University to fend off potential hackers in its smart traffic system.

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Developed by the Pittsburgh company Surtrac, the system uses artificial intelligence to read and monitor traffic and adjust traffic lights accordingly.

The technology is currently being used on Baum Boulevard and in several Pittsburgh neighborhoods, including Shadyside and East Liberty.


"We looked at wireless vulnerabilities, radio frequencies, the website itself and the cameras themselves,” said Madison Oliver, one of four CMU students who worked on the project.

She said the goal was to find vulnerabilities in the system and warn the city where problems could occur.
For security reasons, city of Pittsburgh officials and CMU declined to release any specific vulnerabilities found in the traffic system.

CMU faculty adviser Kyle O'Meara said ransomware and malware attacks have garnered more media attention but an attack on infrastructure could be very dangerous.

"When it comes to stopping a traffic light or turning them all green at the same time, we know the outcome is a higher risk," O'Meara said.

The partnership happened before Santiago Garces took over as the city's Innovation and Performance director in December.

But he said it's part of a continuing trend to keep Pittsburgh's systems as safe as possible.

"I think security is always a moving target, and we take it seriously," O'Meara said.