Skip to main content

Big truck hijacking vulnerability should be a wake-up call to trucking industry

Big trucks are more vulnerable to hacking than cars. In preparation for the Usenix Workshop on Offensive Technologies (WOOT ’16) security event in Austin, Texas, next week, researchers from the University of Michigan’s Transportation Research Institute hacked multiple systems in a big rig truck to demonstrate its vulnerability, according to Wired.

In 2015, another team demonstrated taking over a Jeep Cherokee remotely via the vehicle’s Uconnect cell-based system. That remote hijack sent a loud wake-up call to the consumer car world. Hijacking trucks and buses may be even easier. Individual automakers and car models from the same manufacturer use different codes, but most commercial trucks — from tractor trailers and school buses to garbage trucks and cement mixers — use the same communication standard. Once you know how to hijack one big truck, you can use the same codes with most others.

“These trucks carry hazard chemicals and large loads. And they’re the backbone of our economy,” researcher Bill Hass said. “If you can cause them to have unintended acceleration … I don’t think it’s too hard to figure out how many bad things could happen with this.”

The team created several videos showing how they took control of various systems in a truck and a school bus. The researchers interfered with braking systems, took control of engine RPMs, and sent faulty readings to dashboard indicators.

The common link between the vehicles was the J1939 open standard used by the on-board diagnostic systems (OBDS). The Michigan team used a laptop while sitting in the vehicles to access the vehicles’ system via the diagnostic port for this demonstration project, not via a wireless connection, but the point was made.

Heavy trucks, just like consumer vehicles, increasingly connect to the outside world via cell-phone and other systems. Breaking through to the OBDS via remote wireless remains a further step, but according to Wired, another study found trucks vulnerable to remote attack via an insecure location-tracking dongle.

WOOT ’16, which takes place during the Usenix Security Symposium, August 10-12, is a two-day workshop of presentations on cryptographic attacks, mobile threats, evading malware detection, creative denial of service, vehicle hacking, and other security threats and issues, to bring them to the attention of affected industries and security firms that serve them.

Editors' Recommendations

Bruce Brown
Digital Trends Contributing Editor Bruce Brown is a member of the Smart Homes and Commerce teams. Bruce uses smart devices…
Modern cars take touch controls too far. This company found a balance
The infotainment panel of a Lucid Air.

Cars are rapidly evolving, and it seems like just about everything about them is going digital. Of course, for the most part, that's a good thing. It allows for more remote control over your car, a cleaner look to your car's dashboard, and more.

Unfortunately, it also seems like car companies are going a little ... too far. It's one thing for things like audio playback controls, mood lighting controls, and others to be pushed into a screen. But for some reason, it feels like another thing entirely for climate controls, for example, to be controlled exclusively digitally.

Read more
EV vs. PHEV vs. hybrid: What’s the difference?
BMW X5 PHEV charge port

When sizing up options for your next car, you may be figuring out whether to get an electric vehicle, only to discover there are a bunch of variations to consider -- not just hybrids, but plug-in hybrids, extended-range electric vehicles, and fuel cell electric vehicles are just some of the other categories. The depths of EV jargon run so deep that we wrote an entire EV glossary, but for now let's zero in on the difference between electric vehicles, hybrids, and plug-in hybrids. These options blend old tech and new tech in a way that's often practical, cheaper than an EV, and still more efficient than an old-school gasoline car.
What is an electric vehicle?
An electric vehicle skips the internal combustion engine found in most traditional cars in favor of an electric motor. This allows EVs to operate without needing gasoline. Instead, they're powered by an electric battery that will need to be charged regularly, either at your home or at a charging station like a Tesla Supercharger. The Ford Mach-E, Kia EV6, and Rivian R1S are all popular examples of modern EVs.

The electric motor works by way of a rotating magnetic field. Inside the motor, three electromagnets surround a free-floating rotor, which spins based on which magnet is attracting it most. That rotor in turn produces power to the wheels of the car and pushes it forward and backward. Regenerative braking reverses the relationship and turns motion into electricity. While you're slowing to a stop, the force of the turning wheels spins the rotor and generates a charge via the electromagnets in the motor, which in turn goes up into the battery for storage. If you're curious, you can dig into the nuts and bolts of how an electric vehicle works.
What's the difference between a hybrid and a plug-in hybrid?
In short, a hybrid primarily relies on gas with an electric backup, while a plug-in hybrid relies on electric power with a gas backup.

Read more
You’ll soon be able to watch YouTube videos in your Android Automotive car
Android Auto in a car.

Google is making a bigger play for the in-car infotainment system. At Google I/O 2023, the company took the wraps off of a series of improvements to both Android Auto and Android Automotive, allowing those who want Google-based services in their car to get more features and better account integration.

As a reminder, the two systems may have a similar (almost identical?) name, but are actually quite different. Android Auto essentially just projects content from your phone, whether through a wireless or wired connection. It's Google's answer to Apple's CarPlay, and doesn't work without your phone. Android Automotive, however, is a version of Android that runs in the car itself, as the car's main infotainment system. It works whether you have a connected phone or not. Collectively, Google refers to the systems as Android for Cars -- yes, yet another name.

Read more