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Is truck hacking the next big threat to motorists?

There are many factors that contribute to commercial truck accidents on American roads. Distracted drivers, trucker fatigue, dangerous road conditions and high speeds all cause collisions on a regular basis. But the industry has recently become concerned with a new threat - one they fear could strike virtually any truck at any place or time.

A recent article on Overdrive examined the threat of hackers to the commercial trucking industry. As technology advances and trucks become part of the intricately connected "internet of things," some safety experts and industry leaders are concerned about the possibility of trucks being hacked and remotely controlled. What would happen if one was?

The many vulnerabilities of commercial trucks

Last year, an owner-operator learned firsthand how it feels to lose control of a truck's onboard technology shortly after getting maintenance on his tractor trailer. While he was driving on a rural highway "in the middle of nowhere," his on-board Omnitracs unit began acting up seemingly of its own volition. According to the driver, the unit shifted controls from driving to off-duty or on duty but not driving. His engine then began de-rating, or losing power, bringing his speed down below 60 mph while he tried to maintain control in an area where he could not safely pull over.

The driver called the mechanic who had recently worked on the truck, who advised him to contact the maker of his onboard system. He had to continue driving while the company rebooted his system five times - each time leaving him without power or important safety protections. Fortunately, the reboots did fix the issues and the trucker reached his destination safely.

In this case, it was a glitch that caused the driver to lose control of the vehicle's onboard systems - but the same loss of control could accompany remote access by a more malicious force. What would happen if it had been a hacker accessing the truck's systems?

How can the trucking industry protect its systems - and other motorists?

Of course, this threat doesn't just affect the people driving the trucks. It affects everyone on the road who gets near those trucks. In an upcoming post, we'll talk about how truck drivers and their employers can protect their vehicles.

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