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This is a relatively common trope with regards to the powers of hackers in film: Someone hacks into the "Traffic Control Center" and gains instant access to all stoplights in an area. This includes the option of turning everything red; everything green; etc. Hackers, Italian Job, Live Free or Die Hard are examples that come to mind.

Has anyone ever done something like this? Is it possible?

  • Didn't I read a story where a fire department could turn all the lights red along the route they will be taking to the fire? Whatever system does that might be a target for hackers. – GEdgar Oct 14 '16 at 14:10
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    I personally heard Defcon 22 presentation which explained that it is (or was) possible. Here is reporting on it: scmagazine.com/… The materials themselves are surely available online somewhere. Not sure if the situation changed since then, probably not everywhere, so I would estimate at least some traffic systems may be still vulnerable. – StasM Oct 18 '16 at 1:36
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There's two versions of this: a hardware hack and a software hack.

The hardware hack (otherwise known as DIrtY MIRT, aka "Do It Yourself Mobile Infra Red Transmitter") is definitely doable and possible, as they are both being built, sold, and even having laws passed prohibiting their sale/usage.

As far as software hacks, this was also done:

http://articles.latimes.com/2007/jan/09/local/me-trafficlights9

officials now allege that two engineers, Kartik Patel and Gabriel Murillo, figured out how to hack in anyway. With a few clicks on a laptop computer, the pair -- one a renowned traffic engineer profiled in the national media, the other a computer whiz who helped build the system -- allegedly tied up traffic at four intersections for several days.

http://weirdwebtoday.com/?p=412*

Transportation bosses in the Netherlands are trying to find out who hacked the traffic-light computer system to show a couple making love when the lights turned green.

The altered lights in Nijmegen, Holland, stopped traffic when passersby kept pressing the pedestrian buttons to see the couple having doggie-style sex on the green light, the Austrian Times reports.

* Dead link. Dutch regional news item on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qewWW-mSua0

  • Heh, wow: "They didn't shut the lights off [... they] programmed them so that red lights would be extremely long." +1, certainly. I will leave this open for a day just for posterity but this completely answers the question. – MrHen May 20 '11 at 14:51
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    Looking at the picture and some other reports about that Dutch "hack", it seems this is not a software hack but just a replacement of the sticker in front of the pedestrian traffic light. – Jan Fabry May 20 '11 at 20:12
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    As for the software "hack", this seems that the engineers had proper technical authorization in the system ("user someuser can alter light patterns"), but they made the modification without a legal order to do so, or even despite an order not to do so. So, while technically possible, such insider jobs are much less glamorous than a bunch of eveeel haxx0rz driving up with a laptop and changing the lights as they see fit - if I were working in a datacenter, it would be trivial to shut it down with one of the SCRAM buttons, but that's hardly "hacking in". Access is 90% of the obstacles. – Piskvor May 22 '11 at 18:15

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