Let’s Tune In To The EU’s Periphery: Hacking Impacts Poland’s Railway System And NATO

Nicholas Zalewski
Polish train in the countryside. Source: ZagAlex (Shutterstock)

Poland has been an economic growth engine but not without its challenges. Last Friday and Saturday, the radio system of Polish Railways was hacked stranding 20 freight and passenger trains. There is an active investigation into who hacked the radio system but it is already suspected that an actor from Russia may be to blame. The radio systems that stopped the trains also played parts of the Russian national anthem and a speech given by Vladimir Putin, Russia’s current president. Due to how simple the hacking was, it may be difficult to find out who is responsible however as a young person could have done it as a prank as well. 

Poland has arrested two suspects in Bialystock who turn out to both be Polish citizens. This is possible as just because the hackers played the Russian anthem and part of a speech does not mean the hackers are absolutely Russian. Instead it can be people who want Russia to be blamed for the hacking or they can be Polish supporters of Putin even. 

The issue is serious as it is believed that the hacking took place with equipment that only costed $30, making Polish trains vulnerable to virtually anyone who desires to act maliciously. By sending tonal messages on the right radio frequency, trains automatically come to a grinding halt. These tonal messages are available online and are also included in a European Union document that aims to make high speed trains in the European Union interoperable. As the tones can also be copied from youtube, the existence of this EU document cannot be blamed. 

As trains automatically stop until train personnel and traffic controllers confirm that there is no risk, it is important to prevent hacking or trains can be chronically delayed if they are consistently receiving radio signals to stop. As there is always the possibility that the train is at risk and must stop, train operators cannot simply override the stop without double checking there is not a valid threat to the train. 

U.S. military equipment in the port of Gdynia which was partially be given to Ukraine. Source: Agenzia Nova

NATO Complications

Besides the security of Polish trains being important to the national security and economy of Poland, Polish trains are important for NATO’s efforts in supporting Ukraine. Military supplies for Ukraine are transported to Poland and then transported by trains and trucks in order to reach their final destinations. 

A little longer than a month before the trains were hacked, Poland’s War Studies University was also hacked. The Cybertraid group which is suspected of having links to Russia was able to hack the computer system. This is a serious situation as this would give the hacking group access to information on how NATO members defend themselves. Employees of the university do not have access to their emails.

This hacking took place a day before the NATO summit which occured on July 11th and 12th in Lithuania. Besides the War Studies University in Poland, other companies and institutions were also hacked in Poland along with Lithuania. This appears to have been done to intimidate both NATO members due to the bloc’s support of Ukraine after Russia invaded it early last year during the last week of February. 

This is not the first time the university has been hacked. Just three years ago the university was also targeted. A letter critical of NATO and the United States was published on the website claiming to be written by the commander of the university. 

Poland’s Future

Map of Europe’s solidarity network which will connect Ukraine to Europe’s rail system. Source: Notes From Poland.

Besides being important currently for transporting supplies to Ukraine, trains are an important part of upgrades to Poland’s infrastructure in order to continue to foster economic growth in the nation. It is expected that if Poland continues the current trajectory of investments, Polish trains will be the most advanced within the European Union. 

Advances in Polish trains are not only important for Poland but for Ukraine as well. As Poland’s infrastructure continues to develop it is expected that Ukraine’s rail network will be integrated into the transport network of the European Union. This will be important not only for Ukraine’s integration into the European Union but also can potentially help fuel its economic recovery which is important after the damage Russia has caused. Having a stable economy that is growing once again will likely be important for the other EU member states to eventually approve Ukraine as a new member.


Poland and the European Union will need to work together on how to allow high speed trains to be interoperable yet difficult to be hacked. NATO must also find a way to keep information secure in each member state otherwise the security of all member states is at risk, as is obvious from the hack of the Poland’s War Studies University. As Poland did not let the hacking in 2020 of the War Studies University intimidate it back then, it is unlikely to back down from Russia now as well. If Poland is successful in upgrading its rail network, Ukraine will benefit as well.

Please Read The Following For More Information:

“Poland investigates hacking attack on state railway network”. Reuters. 28 August 2023.

AFP. “Two Men Arrested Following Poland Railway Hacking”. Times Of India. 28 August 2023.

Tilles, Daniel. “Poland may have Europe’s most modern high-speed rail network in 20 years, says EU official” Notes From Poland. 19 February 2023.

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by Nicholas Zalewski time to read: 4 min