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Don’t let your smart crane get hacked

November 4, 2022  By Emily Newton

Emily Newton

Advanced technology has made cranes more efficient and effective than ever before – but they are now vulnerable to cyberthreats

Safe crane operations and construction sites rely on effective smart crane cybersecurity. Cyberthreats are growing every year, and the industry must prepare defences for every device and piece of equipment. Cranes are no exception. Luckily, any team can take steps to boost their safety.

Smart Crane Cybersecurity Risks

At first glance, it may seem odd that a hacker would target a smart crane. After all, they may not seem like lucrative targets compared to large data centers or business servers. However, the dangers of a smart crane hack are very real. There are a few key risks and hacker goals connected to an attack.

Causing Damage or Chaos

Cyberattacks have been on a virtually unstoppable upward trend over the past few years. Many are designed for profit. However, others are created to cause chaos, damage and potentially even injury.

A crane is such a large and valuable piece of equipment that a hacker could easily see it as a method of destruction. For instance, they might remotely hijack a smart crane to have it ruin part of a structure in development.


Ransomware Profit

Arguably the most common goal of any cyberattack is monetary profit. Ransomware attacks rose an estimated 92.7% in 2021 alone. The construction industry is no exception to these threats. In fact, some of the biggest cyberattacks of the past few years have been ransomware attacks on construction and utility targets. Consider the now-infamous Colonial Pipeline cyberattack, which resulted in a 5 million USD ransom.

A hacker may not be able to steal much valuable data from a smart crane, but they could lock down the vehicle or remotely hijack it. Until the ransom is paid, the operators would not be able to use it.

Construction Is a High-Value Target

Hackers are not blind to the surge in construction activity over recent years, making this sector a high-value target for cyberattacks. There is a lot of funding and investment going into projects. Plus, companies are on demanding schedules with persistent labour shortages.

Even a cyberattack lasting only a few hours could negatively impact a project. Crane activity is particularly crucial to progressing on any construction site. Smaller and medium-sized work areas may only have one crane, and hacking it could stall progress completely.

Hackers are likely also noting the rising use of robotics in construction. In addition to smart cranes, robotics and automation are becoming increasingly popular in all kinds of projects. For instance, robots can now be found laying bricks and tying rebar on many sites. As the industry relies more on these technologies, they become higher-value targets for cyberattacks.

Smart Crane Hack Targets

A hacker will launch their attack against a smart crane’s components. This includes things like IoT devices and sensors, the software running the crane, and any programs or gadgets it’s connected to. For instance, a hacker might initially break into a construction site’s system through its IoT or operations hub and then work their way into a connected smart crane.

The software can be a particularly high smart crane cybersecurity concern. In fact, the U.S. passed the Port Crane Security and Inspection Act in 2022, a bill specifically designed to address these risks. The bill bans the use of cranes manufactured in certain high-risk countries. They could have software with malicious programs hidden in it that could pose a serious security risk.

Even conventional radio operations can be an avenue of attack for hackers. A 2019 research project found that radio-controlled cranes could be remotely hijacked without even accessing the remote control. These attacks would simply require the hacker to send the crane a disruptive recorded radio signal, allowing them to tell the crane to do whatever they wanted. These machines might not be connected to the internet, but they are still at risk of hacking.

Tips for Strengthening Smart Crane Cybersecurity

What can construction companies do to strengthen their smart crane cybersecurity? They should combine basic safe crane operations and proactive security measures. Even a few steps in the right direction can go a long way. These tips can be a great place to start.

Keep Detailed Records and Backups

Preparing for a cyberattack ensures everything is accounted for and documented safely. This offers a record for proof of damages in the event of a successful attack and can also act as a recovery backup of key data and information.

Construction companies should get their smart cranes appraised properly, including the replacement cost of a new one. The official appraisal could be used for insurance purposes to recoup some of the loss if a crane is rendered unusable after a cyberattack.

Additionally, construction companies should ensure their data is securely backed up regularly, whether in the cloud or off-site servers. This extends to all information the business handles, not just what’s related to the smart crane. Once a hacker is inside the system, they can move from one device to another, mining for data. A secure backup ensures they won’t be able to successfully hold anything for ransom.

Secure Every Device On-Site

Effective security on every device is crucial to strong smart crane cybersecurity and operations. Industry experts recommend securing everything from office devices to everyone’s phones and tablets, as well as any connected gadgets on-site.

For instance, IoT devices need their own security protocols, such as strict access control. Radio-controlled cranes need to use end-to-end encryption with remote control devices. Anything members of the project team are using for work-related purposes must have antivirus and anti-malware software installed and regularly updated.

It is a good idea to give everyone on the project team a basic phishing awareness course. These attacks are often the gateway for large-scale cyberattacks.

Practice Safe Crane Operations

Smart crane cybersecurity is crucial for ensuring a safe construction zone and preventing financial harm from ransomware attacks. Safe crane operations rely on strong cybersecurity, and some basic safety practices may help strengthen things.

For example, conducting regular inspections helps keep cranes in good working order and can also be a great opportunity to update security software. Make sure to also establish emergency communication protocols with operators. This will protect them from harm if a crane is remotely hijacked.

Addressing Rigging and Crane Cybersecurity

Protecting construction sites and equipment from cyberattacks involves preparation and attention to detail. Cranes are an integral part of cybersecurity safety measures. These tips and insights can help any team secure machines and ensure safe crane operations.

About the author:

Emily Newton is the Editor-in-Chief of Revolutionized Magazine. She regularly covers news and trends in the construction and industrial sectors.

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