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Trucking Industry to Step Up Cyber Security

Truck drivers have been hailed as heroes, delivering the critical supplies needed as the country struggled with the Covid-19 Pandemic. They are among those essential personnel risking their health and doing the hard work to keep products moving to stores, hospitals, and elsewhere. Truck drivers have kept medical supplies, groceries, cleaning and sanitizing supplies, and much more moving through the supply chain during these tough times. Transportation companies are doing their best to keep drivers and employees safe and healthy and stay compliant with regulations while continuing to operate efficiently.

As the country slowly opens back up, the need for critical supplies has not changed.  The adoption of e-commerce was already on the rise, but as Americans have had to buy almost all of their nongrocery purchases online, truck drivers have been called to deliver.  Even in the midst of this, a recent McKinsey article references the fact that “compared with last year, trucking volumes initially increased by about 30 percent in the early days of the pandemic as a result of panic buying, then dropped markedly, and are now ticking back up again.”  Adding to the complexity, the trucking industry lost 88,000 jobs in April, a 5.8% drop from March.

Regardless of the circumstances, truck drivers and the transportation industry are critical to keeping the economy moving during these unprecedented times.  The virus risks aside, transport companies face increased security threats, including trailer theft, environmental hazards, driver safety, and vehicle safety during this pandemic. 

In terms of safety, truck drivers deliver large loads of disinfectant products that are highly flammable.  Drivers need to know if the lids have come open by accident or if something has spilled. They also deliver pharmaceuticals that are high value and urgent to the healthcare industry.  And as COVID has continued to change habits over the months, Americans have increased their consumption of alcohol during COVID.  Nielsen just recently reported in-store alcohol sales were up 54% in late March compared to the time last year, while online sales were up nearly 500% in late April.  Truck drivers have been called upon to deliver this increased volume as well. 

As transportation companies focus on the key safety areas, they have equipped their trucks with technology called telematics.  A telematics system includes a vehicle tracking device that transmits data about the location, speed, fuel consumption, maintenance issues, and other information regarding the vehicle. This data is transmitted via cellular and satellite networks back to a central server where it can be reviewed and managed.

These telematics systems, along with other truck and trailer technologies are being implemented on trucks today are vulnerable to cyber threats and attacks like many other systems.  According to the FBI, cyber attacks have spiked 400% during the COVID pandemic, and the transportation industry is not immune.

According to the Montgomery Independent, transportation is one of the five most targeted industries for attacks, and these breaches are happening to trucking companies of all sizes. Cyberattacks can take many different forms from stealing personal information about the driver or other employees to malware that can shut down the operation to hijacking the truck and trailer to gain access to the load.

Pharmaceuticals are in high demand from not only healthcare systems but also from the black market operators who want to sell them to the highest bidder.  As COVID cases continue to rise, it is even more essential that critical medicine and supplies be delivered to their intended location on time safely.  Today, telematics systems and other technologies can help the transportation company gain insight into where the vehicle is, whether or not the doors or roll up gates have been opened and if the temperature in the trailer is within guidelines for that medication.

Knowing that information is not enough, however, to ensure those pharmaceuticals and supplies are delivered where and when they are needed.  As cyberattacks increase, these systems and the networks that deliver their data become a key focal point for attacks.

Necessity is the mother of invention, and to address these cyber threats, people and companies are getting creative.  One college professor, Jeremy Daily, has created a program called The Student CyberTruck Experience, which is focused on heavy vehicle cybersecurity.  The goal of CSU’s program is to fill a talent pipeline and create a next-generation workforce that could work on trucks and cybersecurity at the same time.  The university has launched the Cyber Truck Challenge, which brings together around 40 students from universities around the country and allows them to learn from professional hackers and cybersecurity experts.

The challenge exposes students to all systems, including electrical and mechanical engineering and computer science.  In addition to teaching students how to understand and respond to these cyber threats, new technologies are being developed that will create a fence around existing telematic technologies and act as a firewall to ensure these key vehicle systems are protected from these attacks.  Once such technology, TranzSecure™ by Tranzhalo provides a “Halo of Protection” for connected vehicles.

As COVID continues to affect the country and the world in unimaginable ways, the transportation industry is facing an ever increasing risk to the safety of their drivers, their vehicles, and the critical goods and supplies our nation and healthcare industry rely on for their survival. It is more important than ever that creativity and innovation lead the way in the transportation industry.

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