Kenworth: Security a top concern with over-the-air updates

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Updated May 27, 2016

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Just because Tesla’s doing it, doesn’t mean that everyone else should – at least not yet.

Over-the-air updates for a vehicle’s computer system can certainly be convenient, but at this point Kenworth Marketing Director Kurt Swihart says security concerns trump convenience.

“It’s certainly something that needs to be set up in a way to create security for the system,” he says. “It’s something that we’re very concerned about with our systems to prevent hackers from updating a truck’s operating system or disabling certain features.”

Kenworth’s hacking concerns are definitely warranted. In March, Spanish researcher Jose Norte claimed he was able to hack thousands of trucks’ telematics systems in Europe through the Internet and was able to obtain location, gas mileage and other performance data on the vehicles he hacked. Concern for breaking the law, he said, kept him from overtaking transmissions, brakes and steering.

When asked if Kenworth was moving in the direction of over-the-air updates, Swihart said: “Yes, it’s all part of the connected truck platform. We launched TruckTech+, which is a remote diagnostics system last summer. It’s been a very successful program for us.

“We’ve already built over 10,000 trucks with TruckTech+. That’s really the seed of a much broader connected truck platform. Right now, it’s a one-way system, where the truck is able to transmit information about truck fault codes to help a truck back to a fleet operations manager or a dealer and provide actionable intelligence on how that truck is doing.

“Over time, those systems do have the capability of having two-way transmission signals and communications. You see that with Tesla already with over-the-air updates. I think the automotive and the truck industry will continue to move in that direction.

“It’s a huge win for customers, because if you are able to make certain updates on a truck without it being in a shop, then that saves time and maximizes up-time.”