July 31, 2019

Aircraft hacking alert highlights risks facing air transport industry

By Lucy Ingham

A small aircraft hacking alert issued by the Department of Homeland Security should serve as a reminder to the entire air transport industry of the importance of cybersecurity, according to experts.

The alert, which was issued yesterday, warned that modern flight systems used on small planes were vulnerable to hacking if someone gained physical access to the aircraft.

In this situation, a malicious actor could, according to the Department of Homeland Security, manipulate key readings, including data on engine performance, compass and altitude, in order to give the pilot false information. This could lead to the pilot taking actions that could crash the plane or unwittingly be used as part of some form of attack.

The risk is present because such aircraft increasingly rely on networked communications to connect different systems within a plane, in the same way as modern cars. As a result, the addition of malicious hardware could be used to connect to and disrupt the network by introducing rogue data to mislead the pilot.

Aircraft hacking alert a “reminder to the entire aviation industry”

While the Department of Homeland Security’s aircraft hacking alert is specifically focused on small aircraft, the issue also serves as a reminder to the wider industry about the risks cyberattacks pose.

“This latest alert around aircraft cybersecurity should serve as a reminder to the entire aviation industry of the opportunities and challenges presented by modern connectivity,” said Orion Cassetto, director of Product Marketing at Exabeam.

“Every month, there are 1,000 cyberattacks across the air transport industry. At the same time, just 35” of airlines and 30% of airports believe they are prepared to deal with cyberthreats today.”

This is particularly notable given the growing number of technologies being introduced to planes and airports in order to improve performance and enhance the customer experience.

“The industry is constantly innovating to stay ahead of the technology curve, but these innovations are actually creating new vulnerabilities,” explained Cassetto.

“Customer experience is paramount in an industry as competitive and prone to issues as air travel. To deliver a great experience, airlines are implementing emerging technologies, from mobile apps to mood lighting and entertainment systems. From purchasing a ticket, to using miles to upgrade, to making a connection, more data than ever is being used to protect passenger privacy and keep departures on time.”

Read more: How “software flaws” have had tragic consequences for Boeing


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