Cybersecurity in the Transportation Industry

By Zachary Amos •  Updated: 11/13/22 •  5 min read

The transportation industry is about safely, quickly, and securely moving people and goods across the country or overseas. This sector involves subways, automobiles, trains, aviation, and more. It entirely depends on interconnected digital infrastructure to maintain operational efficiency.

However, the industry faces the risks of cyberattacks each day. The cyber threats to the transportation industry are high and complex. Despite the increased risks, many operational technology (OT) specialists haven’t taken adequate measures to protect these systems. Here’s a further look at why cybersecurity is so challenging in this industry.

The Challenges of Cybersecurity in the Transportation Industry

When a cyber-attack occurs, authorities often discourage transportation organizations from paying ransom fees. Cybercriminals that target this sector mostly work for hostile governments and terrorist groups. If organizations were to make a payment, they would be supporting these criminal acts, making the issue worse.

Still, after meeting these ransom demands, businesses hardly receive files in their original state. In turn, transportation companies lose millions of dollars and operational disruption.

At the same time, cybersecurity measures aren’t in place for many transportation sectors. In reality, various organizations don’t have Secure Shell or Transport Layer Security and traffic encryption securing their systems. Furthermore, they don’t occupy role-based access control for their employees, multiplying security risks by allowing vendors open access to their systems.

Why Cybersecurity Is Crucial in the Transportation Sector

The transportation industry is particularly vulnerable to cyber-attacks. Though information technology and interconnected networks have improved the functionality of transportation infrastructure, the risk associated with being online is high.

Currently, the infrastructure includes software that allows users to track locations, statuses, and conditions of assets. It can also monitor and communicate factors related to the environment. These would consist of real-time port and border closures, traffic, and weather conditions. However, the more interconnected these data systems are, the more exposure comes for the company.

With the transportation industry being prone to cyber attacks, there is a potential for massive disruption. In particular, the global supply chain comes to a halt. Even traffic lights and rail transit could physically harm people.

An example of one cyber attack occurred late in October of 2022. It affected Mexico’s transportation systems, causing delays for transporters. As a result of the cyber attack, the country’s sector had to stop issuing driver’s licenses, permits, and license plates for truck operators, causing a delay of at least two months.

These delays in the trucking industry affect the supply chain between the U.S. and Mexico. According to the latest news release by CANACAR, its freight transport is the primary mode of transportation for goods and merchandise across the country. It contributes to 3.3% of the National GDP and 84% of trade between Mexico and the U.S. This latest cyber attack is affecting people’s livelihoods and jobs.

The Top Cybersecurity Solutions

Given the ongoing threats against this sector, transportation companies must implement cybersecurity solutions to mitigate risks. For instance, cybersecurity coordination and response plans are crucial.

Vulnerability assessments must also be a high priority, and agencies should refer to the National Institute of Standards and Technology Cybersecurity Framework for guidance. As interconnectivity increases within the industry, there must be assessments of vulnerabilities involving IoT (Internet of Things) security.

Device connections have points of entry for attackers — putting the industry at high risk — which is why vulnerability assessments are necessary. In addition to vulnerability assessments, transportation companies must mitigate cyber risk with these top cybersecurity solutions.

1. Zero Trust

This approach assumes a breach has occurred. It aims to increase the difficulty for intruders to move throughout the network. Zero trust knows where critical assets lie and who can access this information.

Verification measures include multi-factor authentication, identity validation, and least privilege. OT specialists deploy these throughout the network to ensure that only authorized users have access to data properly.

2. Security Automation

Security automation is critical with global threats, multiple layers of security, and diverse attacks. Companies can complete tasks much more efficiently than human analysts and teams by using machines. Security automation can also help identify mechanisms to improve workflows.

3. Extended Detection and Response

Detection and response technologies can combine various solutions, providing a significant advantage. It detects and removes attackers from networks before an attack’s final stage, including data theft and ransomware.

4. Data Backup

Ransomware attacks can deny companies access to sensitive data. Therefore, a data backup is the most effective way to mitigate risks. However, technology operators should isolate the backups from networks that contain original files. Such action can prevent hackers from exfiltrating or encrypting original files and copies.

5. Network Segmentation

Companies could divide their networks into smaller parts, enhancing network performance and security. Theoretically, segmenting portions of the organization’s infrastructure allows for isolating specific segments if they detect any suspicious activity. In addition, segmentation prevents unauthorized access to a part of the network.

Protecting the Transportation Industry

Cybersecurity experts can agree the transportation industry is lagging in online security. However, it’s vital to help raise awareness to lower the chances of harmful attacks. There have been individual transport companies that have taken responsibility for protecting their systems and the safety of travelers. Still, there will always be the risk of attacks against transportation agencies.

Safety and security are of the utmost importance, and there is a lot to catch up on in cybersecurity. In realizing this shortfall, many cybersecurity experts focus on risks and remediation unique to this sector.

Zachary Amos

Zachary is a tech writer and the features editor of ReHack Magazine where he covers cybersecurity and all things technology.