Cybersecurity 101: Hackers aim for owner-operators with malware attacks

Cybersecurity 101 is a new monthly series on Overdrive intended to help owner-operators and small fleets navigate the growing risks of cybersecurity threats, identity theft, online scams and more. In this installment, Chris Wolfe, CEO of PowerFleet, explains the basic cybersecurity risks owner-operators face — and why they should take steps to protect themselves. Next month’s installment will focus on tips owner-operators can take to avoid being hit with malware.

Cybersecurity initiatives, whether it be through more robust software programs or hiring the right people with relevant expertise, are critical to protect your data from being stolen or held hostage by ransomware.Cybersecurity initiatives, whether it be through more robust software programs or hiring the right people with relevant expertise, are critical to protect your data from being stolen or held hostage by ransomware.

U.S. ransomware attacks almost tripled in just the first three months of 2019, according to Malwarebytes, which provides online security service. In these incidents, hackers use malware to shut down part, or all, of a fleet’s technology system and then demand money, often large sums, to reopen access to the data. Not only can this impact a small fleet’s bottom line, but it can severely disrupt its ability to work with larger carriers, 3PLs and shippers.

The Malwarebytes report noted that hackers are now shifting their focus to small-to-medium-sized businesses – which, in our world, is owner-operators.

Chris Wolfe is CEO of PowerFleet, an asset-management provider for trucking fleets.Chris Wolfe is CEO of PowerFleet, an asset-management provider for trucking fleets.

Even though small businesses don’t have the resources to pay very large ransoms, it’s presumed hackers are increasingly targeting them because they believe these smaller firms don’t have the enterprise grade technical resources to detect or defend from attacks.  This lack of IT support and security expertise — combined with the fact that larger carriers, third-party logistics companies and shippers who use owner-operators will continue to demand more stringent security compliance in the years ahead — creates significant challenges for the trucking industry‘s smallest businesses.

An FBI public service announcement in October warned that ransomware actors are actively targeting health care organizations, industrial companies and the transportation sector. These crooks are the heart of the new wave of cyberattacks that can cripple trucking and logistics firms and put the transportation infrastructure at risk.

This FBI warning comes on the heels of a few notable cyberattacks on our industry. Last summer, hackers attacked LTL fleet A. Duie Pyle. They disrupted the company’s ability to communicate with shippers, and they also shut down the company’s website. Likewise, a ransomware attack on Roadrunner Systems last year cost the company millions of dollars in repair costs and downtime.

It is only a matter of time before these attacks head downstream to owner-operators.

Owner-operators would be facing the same broad set of risks that larger firms face. This may range from phishing attacks or links in email that could trigger malware. Because owner-operators are often integrated into freight brokerage systems and other platforms that have sensitive data and links to larger firms, they’re likely to be a target.

For example, the goal for hackers may not be to hold the owner-operator ransom. Rather it would be to work their way through to the larger enterprises. This creates risks for both parties and can damage long-standing relationships owner-operators hold with shippers, brokers, carriers and other parties.

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