In Dispatcher Training? Here Are Some Interesting Facts About Commercial Vehicle Cybersecurity

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Connectivity in modern vehicles is meant to make us safer, which it certainly does quite well. However, it also means that vehicles contain multiple vulnerable points, which combine to create an attack surface, or web of attack points, vulnerable to hackers. In particular with commercial vehicles, the design of communication systems presents unique risks in the world of cybersecurity that aren’t apparent for consumer cars. Trucks are enticing targets for hackers, which could spell trouble if they aren’t properly protected.

Read on for some interesting things to know about cybersecurity in commercial vehicles.

How Standardization Affects Cybersecurity

Communication architecture is the way that separate components of a truck are connected, and most commercial vehicles operate with standard communication architecture called J1939. This means that there is generally no variation from truck to truck, making it easier for hackers to attack, as they only need to have one program. If hackers try to attack consumer vehicles, they need to know all of the information about the car to be able to even begin.

Most commercial trucks are operating on the same system
Most commercial trucks are operating on the same system

This standard architecture allows ECUs (Electronic Control Units) associated with different manufacturers to communicate properly with each other. Dispatch schools prepare students to enter a field where many standards apply. This is meant to improve efficiency and compatibility with commercial vehicles, but in the case of communication architecture, it also means that hackers can quickly learn how to take over most commercial trucks.

When Vehicles Are Hacked, what Happens?

Motivations for hacking commercial vehicles can vary widely. Pranksters and hacktivists have their own personal or political motivations for tampering with commercial vehicles. The most dangerous scenario is using a truck as a weapon or hacking multiple trucks to block areas. If you choose to use your dispatcher training to work in loss prevention, you may be aware that cargo theft is a major issue for commercial vehicles, and this is a common motivation for hacking as well.

Hackers can send digital signals within the internal network of a truck and operate various aspects of the vehicle. They can change readouts on an instrument panel, for example making the gas tank look full when it’s nearly empty, or blocking safety alerts relating to brakes. They may also replicate command signals that would normally come from the driver, causing the vehicle to accelerate or the engine to rev. Brakes or other aspects of the vehicle could be disabled, endangering drivers and those around them.

Protecting commercial vehicles against cyber attacks keeps drivers safe
Protecting commercial vehicles against cyber attacks keeps drivers safe

Measures to Keep Commercial Vehicles Safe, Explained for Students in Dispatch Schools

One way to protect commercial vehicles from cyber attacks is to encrypt data. The idea is that once data is unreadable to outsiders, they are blocked from using it for their purposes. This doesn’t block access to the data, but it makes it unreadable gibberish that is of no use.

Another method of protecting vehicles is partitioning the electronic architecture into multiple sub-networks. This breaks up the components, instead of leaving them vulnerable in an interconnected, single-vehicle network. Firewalls can be put up in between sub-networks to control what kind of data or command can travel between them, and the critical systems can be separated from less key components in case of a breach. In this way, if a hacker gains access to a part of the system, they can’t necessarily access the engine or the brakes to cause harm.

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