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“Serious” Cyber Attacks Spur Aviation Industry to Act

“Serious” Cyber Attacks Spur Aviation Industry to Act
Jeff Edwards

Cyber security is not the most glamorous aspect of commercial aviation, but the importance of defending critical networks from intrusion is now among airlines’ top safety concerns.

So far, confirmed cyber attacks against commercial aviation have resulted in inconvenience rather than disaster. The airline industry, along with regulatory agencies are slowly becoming more invested in making sure the next cyber intrusion doesn’t end in death or injury. Recent history seems to indicate that there is much work to do on this front, but in the meantime, cybersecurity seems to be at the forefront of the industry’s concerns.

In June of 2015, LOT Polish Airlines was forced to cancel flights leaving 1,400 passengers stranded following a cyber attack at Warsaw Chopin Airport (WAW). A few months earlier, a cybersecurity expert on a United Airlines Boeing 737-800 made the disputed claim that he had accessed the plane’s avionics systems through an open wifi network. More recently, a former federal cyber-investigator revealed that he was able to remotely hack into the controls of a Boeing 757 during Department of Homeland Security tests at Atlantic City International Airport (ACY).

According to Rockwell Collins, however, some much more troubling and verified cyber attacks on airlines and airports in recent years should be a wakeup call for the entire industry and government regulators around the globe. The multinational technology firm cited a hack on Perth Airport (PER) in which sensitive security information was compromised and a cyber attack, allegedly by China, which allowed hackers to seize control of public address systems and video screens at Vietnam’s two busiest airports.

“The Vietnam breach was the most notable involving an airport,” Rockwell Collins spokesperson Jim Knaeble explained. “While it wasn’t particularly technical, it demonstrates that systems don’t have the proper security and enforcement policies in place and that can lead other hackers to think about – and target – other airport systems.”

This month’s South by Southwest (SXSW) Interactive events featured a number of panels sounding the alarm about the aviation industry’s vulnerability to potentially dangerous cyber attacks. According to Airline Geeks’ Mateen Kontoravdis, one such panel, titled “SkyHacking: Nose to Tail on Aviation Cybersecurity” agreed that commercial aircraft, airports and air traffic control systems around the world are far from secure from potential cyber attacks.

Cyber security experts say that it will likely take more than just technological solutions to keep the skies safe. Training and vetting rank-and-file airport workers can be as important as installing state-of-the-art firewalls.

“Often we find the biggest vulnerability within each airport tends to be internal,” Knaeble warned. “Employees may connect devices or click on a link to a site infected with malware, which can open the door to a breach.”

[Photo: Shutterstock]

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