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Take 3: Three Things that Happen When IoT and the Supply Chain Collide

A system of interrelated computing devices, mechanical and digital machines, objects, and/or people that incorporate unique identifiers, and the transfer of data over a network without additional interaction, the Internet of Things (or IoT), evolved from the convergence of wireless technologies, micro-electromechanical systems (MEMS), microservices, and the Internet. As Jerry R Scott, Head Security Operations at DB Schenker Inc. explains, “This convergence has helped tear down the silo walls between operational technology (OT) and information technology (IT), allowing unstructured machine-generated data to be analyzed and used to drive improvements.”

As if all of this wasn’t complicated enough, IoT is now spreading like wildfire through the supply chain, and taking all of us along for the ride, so to speak. “Emerging technologies are transforming global supply chains and the logistics industry at a rapid pace,” writes Willis Towers Watson in The Internet of Things: Driving transformation in trucking and logistics. “3D printing, drone delivery, autonomous vehicles, robotics, artificial intelligence, and the Internet of Things (IoT) are just some of the technological developments making the industry smarter and more efficient.”

Three Takeaways

Essentially, the practice of connecting everyday objects to the Internet, IoT was put in the spotlight when we started reading about how hackers could commandeer our cars while we were behind the wheel, or take over our home refrigerators. Here, according to Scott, are three things that happen when this emerging technology collides with the supply chain:

  1. It can provide higher levels of visibility that we’ve ever seen before. In the transportation realm, IoT will enable logistics providers to track each cog in the supply chain. “They will be able to collect real-time data on all of their assets across warehouses, roads, seas, skies, and even people,” Watson writes. “The explosion of data and intelligence resulting from this connectivity could drive more efficient operations and more accurate decision-making.” Take emissions, for example. According to Watson, IoT technology in trucks could track fuel efficiency not only of the truck, but also of the route and the driver. “Potential oil leaks and tire pressure issues that lead to decreased fuel efficiency could be quickly identified,” he adds, “and real-time GPS data could then be fed to roadside rescue teams to reduce downtime.”
  1. On the flip side, it could expose transportation assets to more hackers. As more and more devices become interconnected, being able to effectively identify and manage security vulnerabilities will be a critical goal across the entire end-to-end supply chain. To help achieve this goal, the newly-formed Technology & Maintenance Council (TMC) Task Force recently started working on cybersecurity issues like IoT and data hacking. During a panel discussion, one member said the need to protect fleets from being hacked has been “heightened due to such factors as increasing interconnectivity of vehicles and components, the movement toward autonomous trucks and requirements for diagnostics,” according to Transport Topics. “We need to become more familiar with what’s going on,” he said. “What concerns me as an equipment service manager is the increased opportunity for cyber attacks because of the interconnectivity of our vehicles and all of the components.” For example, what if all trucks in Washington, D.C., are “hacked,” manipulated to block the beltway and shut down in order to prevent emergency vehicles from reaching the site of a terrorist attack? The committee will be meeting and working with not only researchers, but also the Department of Transportation, Department of Defense, OEMs, the Society of Automotive Engineers, and the FBI and Department of Homeland Security, to assess the situation and figure out how to minimize (or eradicate) the opportunity for hackers to use IoT technology to hack into the nation’s truck fleet. Solutions include equipping vehicles, planes, and trains with the right security protocols, including device “identities” that ensure that only authorized users can access the device, and that any messages/data transfers aren’t tampered with. Companies are also using encryption—where a certificate creates an encrypted link and allows the private transfer of information—to keep hackers from infiltrating transportation links that rely on IoT.
  1. A proliferation of data collection points could leave billions of “unlocked” supply chain backdoors unprotected. The average Joe probably doesn’t understand the intricacies of IoT (and may not have heard of it at all), but one thing is for certain—cybercriminals are well aware of it and are already devising ways to penetrate and exploit it. “In the race to tap into IoT, some enterprises have put themselves at risk by not recognizing the responsibilities that come along with leveraging this technology,” writes Gregory Braun in The Internet of Things and the Modern Supply Chain. He notes that the number of active tracking devices deployed in cargo loading units including trailers, intermodal containers, air cargo containers, cargo boxes, and pallets reached 1.8 million worldwide in 2014. This number is expected to reach 5.8 million by 2019. If companies aren’t careful, this proliferation could leave literally billions of “backdoors” open and vulnerable. The good news is that there are steps that shippers can take to close those backdoors. In 5 Ways to Keep IoT Safe, Ersnt Wittmann of Alcatel says the first step is to not treat issues like privacy and security as afterthoughts. Good strategies include never connecting a device to the Internet unless that connection provides a clear benefit; create separate guest networks for IoT devices; use strong passwords; and keeping IoT devices updated with the latest firmware at all times. “Installing the latest security patches for your devices’ firmware will help you reduce the chances of a successful attack,” Wittmann writes. “Check for updates every three months or so, or configure your devices to automatically download the latest patches.”
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