Too much, too fast?

By Greg Grisolano, Land Line associate editor

In Doug Morris' career with the Maryland State Police Commercial Vehicle Enforcement division before joining OOIDA, he saw the criminal element go to great lengths to steal trucks and cargo as well as prey on innocent truckers. Now as OOIDA's director of safety and security Morris serves as the Association's liaison with and consultant to law enforcement on the state and federal level. He sees this trend of high-tech crimes targeting the trucking industry as a growing threat.

Land Line spoke to Morris about the nature of these threats and why truckers should be vigilant.

Q. Vehicle hacking has been making the news lately with hackers showing that they can manipulate the engine and other functions of a car. There are additional reports of vulnerabilities with the GPS monitoring systems that shippers use to track high-value loads in trucks. What is the transportation and logistics industry's view of the threat level from hacking?

A. Obviously, it is a high concern with any transportation component that relies on systems that use cyberspace. All of these systems have been proven to be vulnerable by either outside attackers or from subversive or disgruntled employees.

It's amazing that government and safety advocates are hard-pressing the industry to use electronic logging devices, lane departure systems and a number of other smart technologies, but aren't aware of their propensity for being corrupted by intentional malware or someone hacking into the vehicle's system.

Imagine a terror or a criminal network that has been able to infiltrate the control systems of a fleet of hazardous material trucks that use smart technologies. They could cause crashes throughout a region or shut a truck down in the middle of an interstate. There is a lot to be said for about old-school ways of doing business. Using technology is one thing. Relying on it is totally different.

Q. Many cargo security experts like yourself have long advocated for GPS monitoring or tracking devices on the truck or covertly hidden in the trailer. Some security experts claim those devices may be vulnerable to "spoofing" (making them appear or disappear) or using the signal to identify, track and abscond with high-value or highly sensitive loads. Does the potential concern over their vulnerability to hackers outweigh the benefit of such devices until changes are made to make them more secure?

A. I am a big advocate of using a host of security measures, including GPS monitoring, for high value loads. Spoofing will always be a problem, especially as more individuals learn the process of hacking into a system and are able to complete the process, but so far the benefit of having this equipment has outweighed not having it.

In addition to GPS monitoring, I promote the use of other security measures such as mapping out your route and knowing the route numbers and road names. You should also let family members or a close friend know where you are going and your expected delivery times.

Try to use safe, secure parking areas that are well-lit and don't broadcast that you have a valuable load. Watch your surroundings and be cognizant if you are being followed or watched. Report suspicious behavior to the state or local police.

Security technologies will never supplant veteran truck drivers who know their routes and their surroundings.

Q. On the subject of GPS monitoring, specifically with reference to e-logs and similar devices, if those signals could be hacked or captured, it essentially becomes a way for the hacker to track not only the vehicle or cargo, but also the movements of the driver - at least while the driver is in the cab driving. Is there a personal privacy risk here too that can be exploited? What about a scenario in which a female driver might be threatened and/or stalked by somebody who was able to hack her ELD and get updates on her location via GPS?

A. Yes, that could happen, and absolutely if a criminal or terror/subversive element knows what type of commodity a specific company usually hauls, they can track that load and the driver all over the country.

The driver while under a load usually isn't far away from his truck when he isn't driving. There are a lot of companies that I know that specialize in, and are exclusive haulers for, Department of Defense, Department of Energy and others and may be hauling anything from egregious chemicals and radioactive materials to military armament and ammunition.

Q. What, if any, changes is the industry looking to make to protect vehicles and cargo from cyber threats? What is your opinion on the industry's level of preparedness to deal with such threats if they arise?

A. Safety and security technologies are coming into the industry fast and furious, and those who are producing these technologies are trying to be the first to market. Unfortunately, a lot of research and development has gone by the wayside in the mistaken belief that a certain technology will save lives or save millions of dollars.

In reality, it may be hurting the industry. We have all bought something that was supposed to be cutting edge and was supposed to help our daily lives only to take it home and learn that it was junk. I'm afraid that a lot of this technology being mandated on the industry we will find out down the road was just junk, especially when it becomes compromised and you find you have trusted your life to a computer component. LL