Trucking fleets may be the next targets of ransomware

The Next Victims

Trucking fleets may be the next targets of ransomware

Among the common types of cybersecurity attacks perpetrated on enterprises, arguably none are as sophisticated, effective or lucrative as ransomware is today. Ransomware is a cyber attack in which an actor takes control of an organization’s internal systems and holds it “hostage” until a ransom is paid by the victimized organization.

These attacks thrive on businesses with sensitive consumer data or where the cost of halting operations would far exceed the ransom price demanded by the bad actor, who is expected to retreat and turn over an encryption key to the victim.

Based on current and forthcoming advancements in trucking, such as fleet software and autonomous technology, these companies and their insurance carriers are bracing to have a growing bullseye on them with ransomware attacks moving forward.

Ransomware Continues To Target Supply Chain Businesses

Just last year, ransomware cost U.S. businesses $8 billion. This amount may be shocking at first, but when considering the associated cleanup costs, lost revenue can be 100 to 200 times greater than the ransom itself. Hence, it’s no surprise that 45 percent of ransomware victims and/or insurance companies decide to pay the ransom rather than restore the systems themselves.

Moreover, ransomware attacks skyrocketed in the first quarter of 2019, according to the Beazley Breach Response (BBR) Services team, which reported a 105 percent increase in the number of ransomware attack notifications against clients compared to Q1 2018. Additionally, the average price of ransoms in Q1 2019 increased by 89 percent as compared to Q4 2018.

According to the report, the healthcare sector was hardest hit by ransomware attacks, followed by financial institutions and professional services industries.

Frighteningly, many of these studies are overlooking the looming and existing danger posed to the automotive industry, as ransomware attacks continue to proliferate and expand to new sectors in 2019. Most recently, the public sector was hit with attacks on the cities of Baltimore, MD, and Lake City, FL.

Beyond those threats, there has also been an increase in attacks on supply chain businesses. For example, Norwegian manufacturer Norsk Hydro was hit by a ransomware attack that affected its production and IT systems. They were an opportune target due to the sheer amount of money lost by holding just one part of a large and lucrative supply chain hostage. It is expected that ransomware will only continue to grow based on insurers’ often succumbing to ransom demands and enabling what many call the “extortion economy.”

Why Commercial Trucking Is At High Risk

Ransomware attackers are always looking for new areas of the economy to exploit, and innovation in the commercial automotive space is providing a lucrative opportunity. As trucks continue to become more connected through multiple networks and automotive computers, they open up a new and vulnerable attack vector for malicious hackers to enter these systems.

The cyber-hijacking of a Jeep in 2015 proved cars can be hacked, and the biggest reason that ransomware attacks are not commonplace in the automotive industry yet is simply a lack of monetization and scale, as well as an industry prerogative to keep these new stories quiet.

Both advances in Fleet Management Systems (FMS) for commercial trucking and the emerging practice of truck platooning create numerous vulnerabilities for ransomware cybercriminals to capitalize on these affluent trucking companies and the insurers tasked with writing their policies. Imagine a trucking fleet of perishable food products or expensive medicines is stopped by a hacker en route to customers. Companies would be extremely incentivized to quickly pay a ransom.

FMSs are the central computer – and the heart – of a commercial trucking operation, enabling a series of highly important and specific tasks in the management of any or all aspects relating to a company’s fleets of vehicles. These specific tasks encompass all operations from vehicle acquisition to disposal and coordination between ports and drivers.

Software, depending on its capabilities, allows additional functions such as recording driver and vehicle details, the tracking of procurement costs, scheduling of maintenance and servicing tasks, import of fuel transactions, and measuring of fleet performance via reports and charts. Considering how central long or short-haul trucking is to many businesses around the world, losing visibility or control of the systems would be catastrophic – even for a moment.

If hackers can penetrate just one vulnerable truck in the fleet, they can access the entire system and shut everything down. Logistically, that could result in millions of dollars of lost revenue and put future business at risk, aside from the obvious driver safety issues that could potentially arise.

Additionally, there are more dollars in question here. The driver safety concern is also amplified considerably based on the way the trucking industry is progressing. As buzz grows around the future of autonomous trucking, it is not just the communication and business operations that can be affected, but also the trucks themselves.

While fully autonomous trucking fleets are years away, truck platooning is just four to eight years off. One company leading the charge is Peloton, who announced its “Level-4” autonomous platooning system back in July 2019. In truck platooning, one driver controls a small fleet of trucks directly behind them through vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) communication that mimics the movements of the driver, which saves gas mileage through drafting and reduces the number of drivers needed on staff.

As with any emerging technologies, there are kinks to be worked out, including adjusting speeds and brake timing for differing cargo weight. Cybersecurity that protects these trucking fleets from attacks has become a necessity, not a luxury or “nice to have,” and must be carefully considered before these technologies become the new normal on the road.

Approaching Security of Connected Trucks

Vehicle security differs widely from enterprise security because of the many moving systems involved. All modern vehicles contain up to 150 electronic control units (ECUs), with commercial vehicles typically housing at least 40 ECUs. In all cases, there is a central ECU that in-vehicle and external communication passes through for each vehicle functionality channel, such as keyless entry, anti-vehicle theft systems, infotainment and telematics, which are constantly transmitted back to the OEM.

The challenge with cyber protection for these ECUs is that every time a new connected feature is added to the vehicle, it is just another vulnerable access point for bad actors to enter the system. Therefore, it is not appropriate to have cybersecurity solutions block each attempt to penetrate the vehicle, but to instead lock down and consolidate all in-vehicle communication to only allow a single type of approved communication to alter functionality. Vehicles require this deterministic model of cybersecurity because randomness of attacks cannot be tolerated when the object is a fast-moving vehicle and lives are on the line.

As all industries cope with the growth of the extortion economy and the widespread proliferation of ransomware, it is important that vehicle safety become a proactive conversation instead of a reactive one. It is only a matter of time before we see vehicle cyberattacks become mainstream, and the auto industry must establish a safety standard for cybersecurity that can adequately protect against bad actors who want to control our vehicles and our lives by extension.

This article originally appeared in the March 2020 issue of Security Today.


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