NMFTA on FreightWaves: Why Cybersecurity Is a Top Priority

NMFTA - August 2, 2023

During a recent interview with FreightWaves, the National Motor Freight Traffic Association’s (NMFTA) Executive Director Debbie Sparks and Senior Cybersecurity Research Engineer Ben Gardiner had a chance to speak directly to the critical impact the organization is making on today’s LTL trucking industry.

While NMFTA has been labeled an “old organization” with roots in operational efficiency, as Sparks said, and has long been focused on setting standards like Standard Carrier Alpha Code (SCAC), one critical fact is currently guiding the organization’s focus:

“The more you digitize, the greater the potential for disaster.”

As Sparks offered this warning during the FreightWavesNOW segment, it was not to be misinterpreted as a call not to digitize. Digitization is absolutely essential in the trucking industry, and NMFTA is leading the charge to digitize with initiatives like electronic bills of lading, and the coming series of API protocols.

“We are really driving it,” Sparks said. “We are working with the 3PLs, the shippers, and the carriers to send the data digitally.”

But the more information is digitized, the more it becomes vulnerable to cyberattackers. That’s why NMFTA moved boldly in 2015 to affiliate with a team of cybersecurity researchers led by Gardiner.

“We had to take a hard look at what Ben and his team were doing with cybersecurity and the research component,” Sparks said. “Historically it was a small group. They met with Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA). They met with the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). And we realized we needed to take it external and teach the industry about what was happening so they could make better decisions for their companies.”

Gardiner explained that, while the trucking industry may not be uniquely vulnerable to cyberattacks in comparison with other industries, it has historically been an early adopter of technology – going all the way back to electronic data interchanges in the 1980s.

Today, with mandates for technology like electronic logging devices (ELDs), the trucking industry faces a unique challenge: Truck networks weren’t designed to be put on the Internet, but ELDs are mandated by federal regulation to be interconnected. That means those networks that were never meant to be exposed online – and were not designed to be protected against cyberattacks – are suddenly vulnerable.

“One of the things that concerns us is that ransomware could turn into the ransom of trucks,” Gardiner said.

But NMFTA has taken the lead in teaching the industry how to fight back.

As a member-driven association, NMFTA has made the decision to make all its cybersecurity resources free and available to anyone. It’s all open source – including assets such as the organization’s blogs, whitepapers, research projects and videos. Even NMFTA’s annual Digital Solutions Conference, which this year is in Houston from October 22-25, is offered at no charge. Yes, that’s correct – there’s no fee to attend.

“When we launched this public-facing conference last year, we realized you typically pay a registration fee,” Sparks said. “NMFTA’s Digital Solutions Conference does not have one. We will keep it that way through 2023 and we are considering it again in 2024. We know that the more people can get into the room, get onto our web site, start reading – the stronger the industry will be.”

It’s no secret that many organizations don’t want to spend time and resources focused on cybersecurity, so she hopes that any organization that has an advocate for cybersecurity will feel NMFTA is a strong ally and resource.

Gardiner encouraged everyone to attend the conference, which he said will offer two learning tracks. That includes an enterprise track focused on large fleets and a second track more focused on the trucks themselves – assets.

While the conference will have many excellent presentations – including from the FBI, Microsoft and the U.S. Secret Service – Gardiner pointed to two he especially anticipates. They are:

  • Ryan Gerdes, Ph.D., of Virginia Tech presenting on sensor cybersecurity (read more on that here).
  • Jeremy Daily, Ph.D., of Colorado State University presenting on advanced degrees in truck cybersecurity (read more on that here).

If you would like to attend the Digital Security Conference in Houston from October 22-25, here is everything you need to know.


The National Motor Freight Traffic Association promotes, advances, and improves the welfare and interests of the motor carrier industry and less than truckload carriers operating in commerce, both domestically and/or internationally.