Experts warn that vehicles are vulnerable to cyberattacks

By Kim Smiley 

By now, you have probably heard of the “internet of things” and the growing concern about the number of things potentially vulnerable to cyberattacks as more and more everyday objects are designed to connect to the internet.  According to a new report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO), cyberattacks on vehicles should be added to the list of potential cybersecurity concerns.  It’s easy to see how bad a situation could quickly become if a hacker was able to gain control of a vehicle, especially while it was being driven.

A Cause Map, a visual root cause analysis, can be built to analyze the issue of the potential for cyberattacks on vehicles.  The first step in the Cause Mapping process is to define the problem by filling out an Outline with basic background information as well as how the problem impacts the overall goals.  The Cause Map is then built by starting at one of the goals and asking “why” questions to visually lay out the cause-and-effect relationships. 

In this example, the safety goal would be impacted because of the potential for injuries and fatalities. Why is there this potential? There is the possibility of car crashes caused by cyberattack on cars. Continuing down this path, cyberattacks on cars could happen because most modern car designs include advanced electronics that connect to outside networks and these electronics could be hacked.  Additionally, most of the computer systems in a car are somehow connected so gaining access to one electronic system can give hackers a doorway to access other systems in the car.

Hackers can gain access to systems in the car via direct access to the vehicle (by plugging into the on-board diagnostic port or the CD player) or, a scenario that may be even more frightening, they may be able to gain access remotely through a wireless network.  Researchers have shown that it is possible to gain remote access to cars because many modern car designs connect to outside networks and cars in general have limited cybersecurity built into them. Why cars don’t have better cybersecurity built into them is a more difficult question to answer, but it appears that the potential need for better security hadn’t been identified.

As of right now, the concern over potential cyberattacks on cars is mostly a theoretical one.  There have been no reports about injuries caused by a car being attacked.  There have been cases of cars being hacked, such as at Texas Auto Center in 2010 when a disgruntled ex-employee caused cars to honk their horns at odd hours and disabled starters, but there are few (if any) reports of cyberattacks on moving vehicles.  However, the threat is concerning enough that government agencies are determining the best way to respond to it. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration established a new division in 2012 to focus on vehicle electronics, which includes cybersecurity. Ideally, possible cyberattacks should be considered and appropriate cybersecurity should be included into designs as more and more complexity is added to the electronics in vehicles, and objects ranging from pace-makers to refrigerators are designed to connect to wireless networks.

Florida under attack by another invasive species

By Kim Smiley

Florida’s warm climate has made it an appealing home to many invasive species, such as Burmese pythons (see our previous blog) and giant African land snails.  Researchers fear another species, the Nile monitor lizard,  is also threatening native wildlife.  Nile monitor lizards are intimidating reptiles, growing up to 5 feet long, and they are not fussy about what they eat, consuming almost anything smaller than they are.  They will feed on mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, fish and eggs. There have even been reports of Nile monitor lizards making a meal out of pet cats.

This issue can be analyzed by building a Cause Map, a visual format for performing a root cause analysis.  A Cause Map visually lays out the cause-and-effect relationships that contribute to an issue so that they are easily understood.  The first step in building a Cause Map is to fill in an Outline to help define the problem.  Basic background information is recorded in the Outline in addition to how the problem impacts the overall goals.  To build a Cause Map, start at one of the impacted goals, start asking “why” questions and add the answers to the Cause Map. For this example, we will focus on the environmental goal.

Invasive Nile monitor lizards impact the environmental goal because they can have a negative impact on native wildlife.  Why? Monitor lizards eat a varied diet and there are permanent breeding populations of these lizards in Florida.  Why are there populations of Nile monitor lizards in Florida? They were introduced into the environment and the number of Nile monitor lizards in the wild quickly increased. (It’s a bit awkward to write out the “why” questions in this way, but click on “Download PDF” above to see how the Cause Map would visually lay out for this example.)

Nile monitor lizards are basically a perfect (or perfectly bad, depending on your point of view) invasive species.  They grow quickly and breed at an early age.  They lay many eggs at once, as many as 60 eggs in a single clutch. Their natural habitat is very similar to southern Florida and they have a tendency to wander over long distances so it isn’t surprising that they would quickly spread from where they were originally introduced into the wild.

Researchers don’t know exactly how Nile monitor lizards were first introduced into the wild, but it typically occurs when pets escape or are released.  Nile monitor lizards are sold as pets.  Often they are small when sold, but they quickly grow large and can be aggressive.  Owners may release their pets into the wild if they become tired of them or are unable to continue caring for the lizards.  It’s easy to see how a small pet lizard may seem like a good idea, but turn out to be a less than ideal roommate when they have grown into a large, active predatory adult lizard, complete with sharp claws and teeth.  Not to mention, the cost of feeding such a pet might be more than anticipated.

Researchers are still working on developing the best methods to control Nile monitor lizard populations in Florida.  (It is unlikely that Nile monitor lizards will ever be eradicated from Florida, but officials hope to control the numbers.)  Three permanent breeding populations of Nile monitor lizards have been identified, one of which is estimated to be hold over 1,000 lizards.

DNA testing has shown that there are actually two distinct species of Nile monitor lizards and all lizards tested in Florida have been determined to be the newly-named West African Nile monitor lizards. West African Nile monitor lizards aren’t likely to spread too far north in Florida and beyond because they aren’t adapted to cold weather.  The other species of Nile monitor lizards is native to a cooler part of Africa and could potentially spread to a wider area if ever introduced into the wild in the United States.

Bottom line: please don’t release any nonnative species anywhere (even goldfish – see our previous blog).  You may think you are doing the right thing for your pet, but invasive species can do massive damage to native wildlife.  Call a pet store or your local fish and wildlife service if you can no longer care for a pet.  You can also help by reporting sightings of nonnative species to your local fish and wildlife services.

Airplane Emergency Instructions: How do you make a work process clear?

By Angela Griffith

What’s wrong with the process above?

This process provides instructions on how to remove the over-wing exit door on an airplane during an emergency.  However, imagine performing this process in an actual emergency.  During the time you spend opening the door, there will probably be people crowded behind you, frantic to get off the plane.  Step 4 indicates that after the door is detached from the plane wall, you should turn around and set the door (which is about 4’ by 2’ and can weigh more than 50 pounds) on the seats behind you.  In most cases, this will be impossible.  This is why emergency exit doors open towards the outside; in an emergency, a crush against the door will make opening the door IN impossible.

Even if it would be possible to place the door on the seat in the emergency exit row, it would likely reduce the safety of passengers attempting to exit.  As discussed, the exit door is fairly large and heavy.  It is likely to be displaced while passengers are exiting the airplane and may end up falling on a passenger, or blocking the exit path.

However, when this process was tested in training, it probably worked fine.  Why? Because it wasn’t an actual emergency, and there probably weren’t a plane full of passengers that really wanted to get out.  This is just another reason that procedures need to be tested in as close to actual situations as possible.  At the very least, any scenario under which the process is to be performed should be replicated as nearly as possible.

Now take a look at this procedure:

It’s slightly better, not telling us to put the removed door on the seat behind us, but instead it doesn’t tell us what to do with the door. Keep in mind that the person performing this procedure’s “training” likely consisted of a 30-second conversation with a flight attendant and that in all probability, the first time he or she will perform the task is during an emergency situation. When testing a procedure, it’s also helpful to have someone perform the procedure who is not familiar with it, with instructions to do only what the procedure says. In this case, that person would end up removing the door . . . and then potentially attempting to climb out of the exit with the door in their hands. This is also not a safe or efficient method of emergency escape.
This procedure provides a much better description of what should be done with the door. The picture clearly indicates that the door should be thrown out of the plane, where it is far less likely to block the exit or cause passenger injury.

The first two procedures were presumably clear to the person who created them.  But had they been tested by people with a variety of experience levels (particularly important in this case, because people of various experience levels may be required to open the doors in an emergency), the steps that really weren’t so clear may have been brought to light.

Reviewing procedures with a fresh eye (or asking someone to perform the procedure under safe conditions based only upon the written procedure) may help to identify steps that aren’t clear to everyone, even if they were to the writer.  This can improve both the safety, and the effectiveness, of any procedure used in your organization.

8 Injured by Arresting Cable Failure on Aircraft Carrier

By Angela Griffith

An aircraft carrier is a pretty amazing thing. Essentially, it can launch planes from anywhere. But even though aircraft carriers are huge, they aren’t big enough for planes to take off or land in a normal method. The USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN 69) has about 500′ for landing planes. In order for planes to be able to successfully land in that distance, it is equipped with an arresting wire system, which can stop a 54,000 lb. aircraft travelling 150 miles per hour in only two seconds and a 315′ landing area. This system consists of 4 arresting cables, which are made of wire rope coiled around hemp. These ropes are very thick and heavy and cause a significant risk to personnel safety if they are parted or detached.

This is what happened on March 18, 2016 while attempting to land an E-2C Hawkeye. An arresting cable came unhooked from the port side of the ship and struck a group of sailors on deck. At least 8 were injured, several of whom had to be airlifted off the ship for treatment. We will examine the details of this incident within a Cause Map, a visual form of root cause analysis.

The first step in any problem investigation is to define the problem. We capture the what, when, and where within a problem outline. Additionally, we capture the impacts to the goals. The injuries as well as the potential for death or even more serious injuries are impacts to the safety goal. Flight operations were shut down for two days, impacting both the mission and production/ schedule goal. The potential of the loss of or (serious damage to) the plane is an impact to the property goal. (In a testament to the skill of Navy pilots, the plane returned to Naval Station Norfolk without any crew injuries to the flight crew or significant damage to the plane.) The response and investigation are an impact to the labor goal. It’s also useful to capture the frequency of these types of incidents.   The Virginian-Pilot reports that there have been three arresting-gear related deaths and 12 major injuries since 1980.

The next step in the problem-solving process is to determine the cause-and-effect relationships that led to the impacted goals. Beginning with the safety goal, the injuries to the sailors resulted from being struck by an arresting cable. When a workplace injury results, it’s also important to capture the personal protective equipment (PPE) that may have impacted the magnitude of the injuries. In this case, all affected sailors were wearing appropriate PPE, including heavy-duty helmets, eye and ear protection. This is a cause of the injuries because had they NOT been wearing PPE, the injuries would have certainly been much more severe, or resulted in death.

The arresting cable struck the sailors because it came unhooked from the port side of the ship. The causes for the detachment of the cable have not been conclusively determined; however, a material failure results from a force on the material that is greater than the strength of the material. In this case the force on the arresting cable is from the landing plane. In this case, the pilot reported the plane “hit the cable all at once”, which could have provided more force than is typical. The strength of the cable and connection may have been impacted by age or use. However, arresting cables are designed to “catch” and slow planes at full power and are only used for a specific number of landings before being replaced.

Other impacted goals can be added to the Cause Map where appropriate (additional relationships may result). In this case, the potential damage to the plane resulted from the landing failure, which was caused by the detachment of the arresting cable AND because the arresting cable is needed to safely land a plane on an aircraft carrier.

The last step of the Cause Mapping process is to determine solutions to reduce the risk of the incident recurring. More investigation is needed to ensure that the cable and connection were correctly installed and maintained. If it is determined that there were issues with the connection and cable, the processes that lead to the errors will be improved. However, it is determined that the cable and connection met design criteria and the detachment resulted from the plane landing at an unusual angle, there may be no changes as a result of this investigation.

It seems unusual that an investigation that resulted in 8 injuries would result in no action items. However, solutions are based on achieving an appropriate level of risk. The acceptable level of risk in the military is necessarily higher than it is in most civilian workplaces in order to achieve desired missions. Returning to the frequency from the outline, these types of incidents are extremely rare. The US Navy currently has ten operational aircraft carrier (and an eleventh is on the way). These carriers launch thousands of planes each year yet over the last 36 years, there have been only 3 deaths and twelve major injuries associated with landing gear failures, performing a dangerous task in a dangerous environment. Additionally, in this case, PPE was successful in ensuring that all sailors survived and limiting injury to them.

To view the outline and Cause Map of this event, click on “Download PDF” above.