ELDs easily hacked by researchers – Land Line Media

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New academic research reveals how vulnerable ELDs are to cyberattacks made by hacking into a truck’s system in seconds while driving alongside it.

Jeremy Daily, associate professor of systems engineering at Colorado State University, is no stranger to truck cybersecurity. He co-founded the CyberTruck Challenge in 2017 and has published numerous research papers related to the topic. However, his latest research exposes an alarming truth: Some electronic logging devices are easy to hack.

Along with research assistants Rik Chatterjee and Jake Jepson, Daily wanted to know how the ELD mandate affects cybersecurity for trucks. The researchers found they not only could access a truck’s accelerator pedal by simply driving by it but also could infect a fleet of trucks with malicious malware by hacking into just one ELD.

For this experiment, Jepson was able to take apart an ELD and do some reverse engineering. He found the default Wi-Fi password right away and from there spent several months developing a malicious version of the ELD’s firmware. Jepson told Land Line Now that this was his first time reverse-engineering a device and admitted a more experienced hacker likely could exploit vulnerabilities much faster.

Watch Land Line Now’s interview with Colorado State University researchers:

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The researchers’ next task was to infect a truck – which proved remarkably simple.

Equipped only with a laptop and Wi-Fi range extender, they drove alongside a moving 2014 Kenworth T270. In just 30 seconds, they were able to access and infect the truck’s ELD with malicious firmware that allowed them to slow the truck down. Chatterjee, who was driving the Kenworth, said it would not speed up no matter how hard he pressed down on the pedal.

In this scenario, the researchers decided to slow down the truck for safety reasons. However, they just as easily could have forced the truck to speed up. And with access to the truck’s operating system, a hacker could access other functions, as well.

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As if hacking one ELD were not bad enough, Daily and his team were able to infect several trucks by initially infecting just one.

The malicious firmware included what the researchers called a truck-to-truck worm. An ELD infected with this firmware can scan for nearby ELDs. Once a vulnerable one is identified, the truck-to-truck worm can spread the virus. The newly infected ELD then can repeat the scanning process, increasing the range of viral spread. This process can allow a hacker to infect an entire fleet of trucks that are close together, making truck stops, rest areas and yards prime targets.

ELD technology and regulations

Although only one brand of ELD was used, the researchers pointed out that manufacturers are using similar technology.

There are hundreds of certified ELDs available, but the research paper reported that there are relatively few distinct models. Essentially, companies are rebranding ELDs, rendering devices “clones of each other with minimal variations,” according to the study. Consequently, vulnerabilities present in one brand of ELD may be present in many others as well.

Another point of concern is the lack of regulation regarding ELD cybersecurity. Devices must meet technical specifications before registering with the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, but manufacturers need only to self-certify.

The National Motor Freight Traffic Association has issued a list of recommended security requirements for ELDs. However, those recommendations appear to be largely ignored.

“I can say very confidently that if that guidance had been followed from the industry, then we wouldn’t have been able to demonstrate these exploits that Rik and Jake developed,” Daily told Land Line Now.

The researchers reached out to the ELD manufacturer before publishing the research. Daily said the manufacturer worked with him and his team to develop a firmware patch addressing the vulnerabilities.

What can truckers do to secure their truck?

There are measures truckers and fleet owners can take to mitigate any cybersecurity vulnerabilities.

First and foremost, truckers need to keep their ELDs updated. Like smartphones, ELDs may require periodic security updates that could include patches for newly discovered vulnerabilities. And if truckers have access to the device’s Wi-Fi password, they should change it to a stronger one.

Daily also believes in the power of the free market. If those in the industry – especially large fleets that buy in bulk – purchase only highly secured ELDs, it will force makers of less-secure ELDs to sink or swim.

The good news is that the industry has responded well to cybersecurity concerns in recent years. The truck used in this experiment was a 2014 Kenworth, a 10-year-old truck. In the past decade, truck manufacturers have improved security measures within their systems. LL

Land Line Now’s Scott Thompson contributed to this report.

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