Transportation Cybersecurity Threats: An Overview

The transportation sector moves people, goods and services across different parts of the economy and generally keeps things ticking. Like the human circulatory system, its role often gets taken for granted until there’s a problem with it. And an increasingly common cause of transportation system issues is cyberattacks.   

When cyberattacks disrupt transportation, they can have cascading impacts on other sectors, including healthcare, retail and even food supply, resulting in slowdowns and disorder in wider economic and societal functions. This article examines key transportation cybersecurity threats to watch out for and highlights four pillars for better cyber defense in the sector. 

Key Cyber Threats in Transportation  

A 2023 survey found 55% of transport leaders were at least somewhat worried about cyber risks. Here’s the lowdown on some key cyber threats in transportation.  


The scourge of ransomware regularly causes major hassles for transport operators. Transportation systems, with their reliance on real-time data and operations, are particularly vulnerable to these system or file-encrypting attacks. Whether it’s public transit, airports, shipping companies or logistics networks, these systems are lucrative targets for threat actors wanting to maximize profits or chaos.  

A successful ransomware attack can affect ticketing, scheduling and operational systems, leading to significant service disruptions. As recently as January 2024, the Kansas City Area Transportation Authority (KCATA) suffered a ransomware attack that primarily impacted communication systems, preventing customers from reaching any KCATA call centers.  

OT Compromises

Operational technology (OT) in transport is all the hardware and software systems that monitor and control physical processes, vehicles and infrastructure. Whether it’s traffic control systems or railway signaling systems, OT lies at the heart of its functioning. One of the main cybersecurity concerns within transport is that threat actors manage to compromise these systems and potentially even endanger safety or life. 

One reason OT compromises are such a threat is that many OT systems in the transportation sector were developed and deployed when cybersecurity threats were not a prominent concern. These systems were designed for operational efficiency and reliability with little emphasis on security.   

You might think, why not just replace these older, less secure systems? However, transportation infrastructures are complex, widespread and inherently interconnected. Legacy OT systems are deeply embedded within this infrastructure, making replacing or upgrading awkward and costly.  

Modern digital transformation strategies, which bring IT and OT closer to convergence, add to the risk. When the Colonial Pipeline shut down in 2021 after a cyberattack, the decision was a direct result of security teams worried that an IT compromise would spread to the pipeline’s operational technology systems.  

Data Breaches

The transportation sector is a rich source of sensitive data, including personal information of passengers (such as names, addresses, payment information and travel histories), as well as critical operational data (like logistics details, cargo contents and proprietary technology information). This makes data breaches a prominent transportation cybersecurity threat in a landscape where profit-hungry hackers often value the exfiltration of sensitive data as the primary goal of their attacks.  

While ransomware gangs often steal data before locking down systems, ransomware is not the only cause of data breaches. Hackers use other methods, like info-stealing malware or compromising user accounts, to get their hands on the prize. In 2024, news emerged that an unauthorized party gained access to a medical transportation company’s archived data, which resulted in a breach that impacted 900,000 patients 

IoT Vulnerabilities

Using Internet of Things (IoT) sensors and smart devices brings many benefits to transport services. From more efficient and predictable maintenance to better customer experiences, there’s a lot of upside.

One downside from a cyber perspective is that IoT devices increase the attack surface. Each connected device potentially offers a new entry point for cyberattackers to compromise. And that potential for compromise is high because IoT devices often have inconsistent security standards or easily exploitable vulnerabilities. Some devices even lack features like the ability to be patched or updated.   

Pillars for Strengthening Transportation Cybersecurity

When considering how to best strengthen cyber defenses in transport, there’s a lot to cover, but the following four pillars provide a good foundation.  

  1. Defense in depth—Use a layered approach to security that provides defense in depth. Don’t rely on a single security tool or measure to protect the most important systems and assets.  
  2. Secure network design—Divide networks into distinct zones to reduce the risk of widespread breaches. Opt for reference secure network architectures that help limit the risk of IT compromises crossing over into OT systems. Secure network design limits an attacker’s ability to move laterally across the network and access critical systems/data.  
  3. Rigorous vulnerability identification—Continuously identifying and addressing vulnerabilities is crucial in an industry so reliant on legacy systems and IoT devices. Regular vulnerability assessments and penetration testing help find weak points in networks and systems before threat actors reach them. A rigorous approach cuts off the low-hanging fruit vulnerabilities that many hackers look for.  
  4. Continuous monitoring—Implementing real-time monitoring and detection systems helps transport companies quickly detect and respond to cyber threats. Continuous monitoring of network traffic, system logs and user activities can detect anomalies indicative of a cyberattack. When internal resources are lacking for this 24/7 monitoring, managed detection and response is a good alternative.

Nuspire’s MDR

Nuspire’s managed detection and response can help transportation companies secure complex and often disparate environments. Our team of experts works as an extension of your team to provide guidance and 24/7 continuous monitoring to speed up detection and response to cyberattacks. 

Learn more here.  


Have you registered for our next event?