On the Road

Can EOBRs be hacked, or their data corrupted?

October 2, 2011

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One of the tenets of our legal system is the right to cross-examine your accuser. From trucking's perspective, this could mean proving the accuracy of a radar device or a DOT scale by demanding proof of calibration. Will we retain that right in the world of cyber-enforcement?
Paper logs may be burdensom and subject to interpretation, but at least you know what's on the page is what you put there. Photo by Jim Park
Paper logs may be burdensom and subject to interpretation, but at least you know what's on the page is what you put there. Photo by Jim Park

I caught a brief report on National Public Radio a few weeks back about stealing cars with cell phones. The crooks can apparently unlock and start vehicles equipped with certain chips used to communicate with the outside world, such as with GM's OnStar system, Ford's SYNC, and BMW's ConnectedDrive.

Given that big trucks are notoriously easy to steal already, I wasn't worried about the crooks and their cell phones, but it did get me thinking. How safe is the data stored within our onboard computers? Again, I'm not thinking about one carrier scanning another carrier's ECM for sensitive customer information. It's not there in any form that anyone can use. However, there is data on there that the enforcement community sure can use -- and use against its owner.

So, my question is, can the integrity of that data be protected and guaranteed?

Here's the problem: if hacking into a truck computer is relatively easy (my assumption, here, not proven or corroborated), how secure and "tamper-proof" can EOBR data be?

Data integrity is important to any organization, but when said data is used in a prosecution, it had better be absolutely rock-solid, clean and pure before the cops can use it against you. Radar guns, for example have to be calibrated periodically before courts will accept them as evidence. The same applies to scales. They have to be certified accurate before they can be used in commerce, or in our case, for vehicle weight enforcement.

Apply that thinking to the EOBR/E-log. That data could ultimately be used in a prosecution. Is there anyway in the E-world to be certain beyond doubt that the data being used against you is accurate, untampered with and uncorrupted?

A paper log, of course is pretty easy to fudge, and that's okay as far as integrity is concerned. It doesn't matter what's on the page as long as you have signed off on the page as "true and correct."

Can we do the same with electronic information? Does the owner of such data know with any certainty that what is displayed by the device is accurate, untampered with and uncorrupted?

Up in the province of Ontario over the past year, several speed limiter prosecutions have been tossed out of court because the crown attorney was unable to assure the judge that the data he was presenting as evidence was "true and correct."

In at least one case, the defense attorney cross-examining the prosecuting officer asked if he could be certain that the cell phone on his hip had not somehow corrupted the data being transferred wirelessly from the speed limiter verification device to his laptop.

He said he could not, and the charge was thrown out.

The fact is, electronic data can be altered either nefariously or by accident. I really hope FMCSA spends a little time worrying about potentially inaccurate data when they start hauling these hi-tech logbooks into court.

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Author Bio

Jim Park

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Equipment Editor

Truck journalist 13 years, commercial driver 20 years. Joined us in 2007. Specializes in technical/equipment material (including Tire Report), brings real-world perspective to test drives.


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