Hildebrand & Wilson, LLP
Hacking Tractor Trailers – Can It Cause Accidents?
Today’s big rigs are more complex than ever and are operated with the assistance of complex telematics systems that perform a variety of duties, including preventing tractor trailer accidents. Unfortunately, as many truck owners and lawyers who help clients injured in tractor trailer accidents are learning, these useful systems present an identifiable risk of hacking.
Just like any other computer, onboard telematics systems that wirelessly relay data to a home station can be easily intercepted. In the case of trucking and fleet control systems, the results may include stolen data as well as interference in the way a vehicle works. This could actually lead to deadly tractor trailer wrecks.
Could This Be a Growing Problem in The Trucking Industry?
The concept of truck hacking is a newer one in the U.S.; however, safety organizations that study this trend are finding it has become more prevalent. Hacking occurs when unauthorized users gain access to a truck’s computerized telematics system or fleet control mechanics and is surprisingly easy in some cases.
How does this happen? It is the result of many vulnerabilities in the technology of these systems as well as how technology is accessed and used. In order to receive fleet commands from remote locations, the devices used for this effort must be left openly accessible to the internet. One research investigation of this issue revealed over 700 unsecured and hackable fleet control systems found on the open Internet.1
This presents a wide opportunity for anyone to hack into a truck’s system and interrupt its operations with uploaded malware and other more specific tools that can control vehicle functions like brakes. The results could be anything from reduced efficiency to malfunctions that result in deadly tractor trailer accidents. A lack of security on many of these systems, or the failure of companies to secure them, makes hacking even easier.
Why Hack a Tractor Trailer?
Those investigating this concern includes the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) which is the Pentagon's R&D division and a number of other independent agencies. They suggest there are a few reasons why a person would want to hack a truck or even a whole fleet of trucks. Fleet attacks can shut down an entire company if there is a loss of control over its delivery trucks.
It is also suggested that hacking could allow the bypassing of certain vehicle monitoring systems, which could affect everything from monitoring service hours to vehicle forensics. Tractor trailer lawyers also point out that hacking could cause a vehicle to lose control in a variety of ways, resulting in tractor trailer wrecks.
What Can Be Done About It?
Tractor trailer lawyers stress that while developers work to improve this technology, the first step in preventing hacking and resulting tractor trailer wrecks is to be sure any fleet control software that communicates with a truck is secure. This means choosing a system that has security features to keep hackers out and using these features at all times. Beyond this, it seems to be a "wait-and-see" situation for everyone as improvements in technology begin to roll out.
While truck hacking is more prevalent in Europe and has been reported less often in the U.S., lawyers still point out the need for owners and fleet managers to ensure that all technology is secure. Hacking is enough of a concern that even DARPA is studying it.
At the very least, hacking could cause a semi to quit working and impact its ability to timely complete assigned tasks. At the worst, it could result in control issues that end up causing deadly tractor trailer accidents. Make sure every step possible is taken to avoid such wrecks by using only secure telematics and vehicle control systems!