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Study: 14 million U.S. freight trucks vulnerable to hackers

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(Colorado News Connection) New worker safety regulations meant to log how many hours truckers are on the road may have inadvertently exposed millions of U.S. 18-wheelers to hackers who could take control of entire fleets of vehicles, according to a new Colorado State University paper.

Jake Jepson, co-author and graduate research assistant at Colorado State University, said it's important to create guard rails as the nation's transportation networks, power grids, water systems and other critical infrastructure move online.

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"Each year those systems that never used to be connected to the internet or have any wireless connections are becoming more and more connected," he said. "And that can introduce vulnerabilities."

C.S.U. researchers found the cybersecurity gaps in electronic logging devices, which track a host of data required for inspections. The devices are connected to the vehicle's control systems, and are not currently required to carry cybersecurity precautions. In one example, the paper shows how hackers can manipulate trucks wirelessly and force them to pull over.

Jeremy Daily, C.S.U. associate professor, said students were able to locate the gaps by reverse-engineering one of the devices, which are produced by third-party vendors, and that adding new electronics to trucks that don't go through a typical manufacturer's design process can introduce new vulnerabilities.

"When regulators are introducing new requirements, they have to be aware of the cyber security implications," he explained.

Daily estimates that more than 14 million medium-and heavy-duty trucks that form the core of the U.S. shipping sector may have been exposed. He says the paper's findings can help device vendors fix the problem.

"The happy ending of this story is that we have worked with the vendor, and they have come up with a patch to the problem," he continued. "And so, it's important for the truckers and the people that have these devices to pay attention to those software update recommendations when they come out."