Wireless security

by Katy de Vries

TORONTO, Ont. – With practically every load moving down the highway worth at least $50,000, trucking is a natural target for thieves.

Over $1 billion of cargo and equipment is stolen throughout Canada every year, according to the Ontario Trucking Association.

In the past, crooks were only interested in the cargo itself, said Jay McCallum, area sales manager for Boomerang Tracking, but one of the latest trends that Boomerang is seeing is the seizure of the transport equipment along with the load it is carrying.

“Now we are seeing thieves running chop shops so they can put new serial number plates on the equipment and either resell it or put it back out on the road,” said McCallum.

It used to be that thieves would strip the unit of cargo and leave the equipment in an abandoned lot or an industrial area where it would eventually be recovered.

Crooks are now realizing, however, that not only is the cargo worth big bucks but the equipment is as well.

With these figures and trends in mind, technology companies have attempted to capitalize on industry security and theft control concerns by introducing new communications and tracking devices.

“You can’t just walk into a truck dealership and replace a unit right away nor can you replace a $65,000 load of asparagus very quickly, so it’s important that trucking companies not only worry about training drivers, loss control and product handling but also protection of assets,” McCallum said.

It’s been a pretty hands-off topic for a number of years now, but it is only getting worse because of the concerns of the insurance companies, he said.

“We’ve seen over the last few years a number of trucking companies that have one too many theft claims get dropped by their insurer,” said McCallum.

So instead of just keeping the issue hush-hush, it’s time to take control of the assets, he said.

Boomerang has developed a theft tracking system that uses cellular telecommunication to detect the location of a stolen tractor-trailer unit or stolen cargo throughout North America.

“The customer just needs to call our 24/7 security centre and then we can put the asset under surveillance and contact the police for recovery. The whole process takes us about an hour on average,” said McCallum.

One of the advantages of using cellular technology as opposed to satellite technology for tracking is the ability to locate equipment or cargo underground, he said.

“We recovered a stolen Corvette that was being stored in a parking lot five levels underground in downtown Montreal,” said McCallum.

“We’ve been able to pull stuff out of storage units, warehouses or containers as well.”

Boomerang’s system is designed with completely covert hardware about the size of a pack of cigarettes, which can be installed in up to 90 different hiding spots in the average highway tractor.

“The unit doesn’t require an antenna and a thief cannot be tipped off that there is a Boomerang system hiding in the truck,” McCallum said.

A security system that everyone knows about isn’t going to work, he said, so Boomerang works with just one or two people from a fleet implementing its security system. Only they know exactly what’s going on and where the devices are.

That said, if a transportation company is also using Boomerang’s cargo tracking system, it would have a larger role to play in the implementation because it would be up to its operations department to include the device in the load being shipped.

“The Boomerang unit can be battery charged, which lasts anywhere from five to 20 days, and concealed within the cargo so the cargo can be tracked independently,” McCallum said.

Although communication companies are continually improving upon the security aspect of their technology, some carriers still feel there is more control with a more basic approach.

Thorson’s Marketing hauls high-end automobiles for car shows, manufacturer prototypes, ride and drive programs or simply specialty movements for the likes of people such as comedic actor Jerry Seinfeld.

“We use only voice cell phones to communicate with our drivers and we keep any detailed information to an absolute minimum for security,” said Andy Thorndyke of Thorson’s Marketing.

“We just don’t let any information regarding our loads get out because my drivers don’t need the hassle of some guy driving up beside them pointing a gun out the window. It’s safety for the cargo and for the driver – we just don’t want anything happening to either one of them,” he said.

As the company grows, however, Thorndyke said that a GPS communication system will probably be necessary.

“We will eventually have to go live with a GPS system but I feel I have more control with just using cell phones and land lines to communicate,” said Thorndyke.

“Too many times our customers like to deal with an actual voice to see where their load of Lamborghinis is. Not to mention that you never really know who is on the airwaves or lurking around.”

Vehicle tracking and geo-fencing are two capabilities of OmniTRACS, Cancom Tracking’s mobile GPS communication system. The system is so robust a computer guru couldn’t “hack” into it, according to Mike Ham, senior vice-president of Cancom Tracking.

The system works on a user identification system with only two attempts and the passwords can be changed on a daily basis.

Also, given the environment in which many trucks are stolen, it doesn’t leave much time for a hacker to break into the system even if it were possible, Ham said.

“I’m a firm believer that what wireless technology provides is good, accurate, timely information that allows good business people to make better decisions. If you have the technology available, you can measure and then manage how you’re running your company and it enables you to adapt quicker and minimize mistakes, and in our industry mistakes are extremely costly,” he said.

Although tracking and fencing can assist with locating stolen goods and vehicle recovery after the crime has taken place, they aren’t actual anti-theft technologies. But Cancom, in conjunction with Qualcomm, does offer different devices designed to prevent theft all together.

“There are things available like decoy cables, hardening material for cables so they cannot be cut, wireless key fobs so that if a driver sees his truck being tampered with he can shut the unit down, log-in displays where a password is necessary to move the truck and biometric readers where a fingerprint or eye scan is necessary to authenticate the login. There are also sophisticated locks that can go on the back of the unit so that if it is cut, an alarm is set off,” said Ham.

But some of these technologies are waiting to be reviewed and accepted by the Canadian and U.S. governments, he said.

“With our technology you can actually shut a unit down on a highway while it’s moving, but I would say that is probably an improper course of action given that a unit traveling 60 miles an hour coming to an abrupt halt on a busy highway isn’t very safe. But this technology is being used in Brazil, so it is up to the governments which technologies they accept or decline,” Ham said.

Since governments are currently considering how they want to implement and control these technologies, the future may include government-mandated security technologies on board vehicles.

A considerable amount of work is currently under way, for example, to produce a “smart” sea container that could detect any tampering with the load.

The future of mobile communications will depend on satellite technology, according to Ham, because it is ubiquitous and provides real-time communication with even more data and at faster speeds.

Not only are the demands of the trucking industry and the communication technologies becoming faster, the networks – the vehicles for these technologies – are also becoming more streamlined, more secure and evolving according to industry needs.

“The most exciting thing that we
are facing is the increase in speed for our network,” said Pam Ferguson, product manager, asset tracking and logistics for Rogers Wireless.

“Rogers’ new Edge network is probably going to have the greatest impact on the solutions we provide with our partners.”

The Edge network is six times faster than the GPRS network and is always evolving, said Tom Soumbas, business development manager for Rogers Wireless.

“The network itself is designed with security in mind,” he said.

There are three levels of encryption and user identities are protected so no one can hack into the network, said Soumbas.

Rogers’ approach is to work with solutions providers – as the actual fleet management software application providers – and they really make the decision of what level of security they want and that usually depends on the specific needs of the customer, Soumbas said.

For example, two different Canadian courier companies were very concerned with the security and integrity of the packages they deliver so they wanted to make sure that in their package tracking solution they had the ability to use ruggedized hand-held devices.

This ensures the packages can be tracked and delivery times recorded, so not only is customer satisfaction increased but it is really a security measure as well, said Ferguson.

The necessary technology for fleet management, including security, is becoming much more accessible, and transportation companies are seeing their peers implement solutions and benefit from them, Ferguson said.

“All of the devices and communication capabilities will continue to get smarter and the pricing will continue to come down.

I think that solution providers in the current market are incredibly in tune with what the transportation companies want and so to be a part of the market right now, you are actually feeding in what your wish list is for the longer term. Solutions are going to continue to evolve and mirror what the carriers are looking for in terms of functionality and features,” said Ferguson.

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