Cybersecurity Insight

A Threat to Road Safety: Hackers Target Big Rigs

5 Aug

Big rigs are a significant part of the shipping industry within the continental United States, hauling everything from furniture, food, gasoline and other uncontrolled substances. It would make sense that the safety of industrial vehicles within any vertical is a priority on all fronts; however, that doesn’t seem to be the case. White-hat hackers are continually coming up with innovative ways to hack everything from your refrigerator to your watch, and that doesn’t seem to be letting up as every device becomes more and more entrenched in IoT. How were these security gaps discovered, and what can be done to keep our drivers, in big rigs or any other vehicles, safe on the roads?

While the subject of industrial vehicle hacks has been broached previously, this particular discovery is unique in that the trucks themselves are being taken control of – not a third party application on which many drivers rely. Researchers from the University of Michigan were able to adjust speeds, decommission brakes, even alter the fuel gage, all through

The trucking industry operates on the J1939 standard, making it plausible that any big rig truck regardless of its age can be hacked using just one method. But this vulnerability doesn’t just stay within the industrial vehicle field – the banking industry and others all have protocols dictating that they abide by certain regulations and operate on the same network. While this is helpful for the industries in question, once a hacker is able to get into one security gap, they can exploit the rest of them fairly easily because there aren’t any other safeguards in place.

On the short-term, trucking industry standards need to be revitalized for the 21st century – sure, now hackers have to hardwire directly into a vehicle’s network, but what happens when they find a way around that and are able to access that same system remotely? In the long-term, compliance is key; obviously the entire trucking industry is compliant with the standards set for them currently, but those need to be shifted and strengthened. Until they are, these big rigs are the most vulnerable vehicles on the road.