In recent years, the airline industry has shifted its focus to the digital world. It now has systems for everything, such as ticketing and passenger information; in addition, all its operations are reliant on interconnected IT networks. As a result, cybersecurity risks and attacks have increased, which makes them a priority that needs to be addressed.
Cyber Attacks in Aviation
Cyber attacks on the airline industry are increasing as systems become more digitized. According to research findings conducted by KonBriefing, there were 38 successful cyber attacks on the aviation industry in 2022. And in April 2023, Pro Russian hackers attacked Europe’s air control authority for five continuous days, disrupting its website.
As Frank Dickson, a cybersecurity analyst at IDC, notes on the matter: “You took a system that was incredibly secure and connected it — [which creates] an attack surface. It’s surprising that it hasn’t had more significant cyber security breaches.”
“Imagine the cost of a move to paper-based tickets…digital transformation is here to stay,” he explained.
So, with customer and flight data on the line, airlines must implement strong defenses.
Why Cybersecurity Needs to be a Priority
There are many reasons why cybersecurity needs to be a top priority for airlines:
Passenger Safety and Security
Airline customers need to have confidence that their personal information and flight security will not be breached. Furthermore, cyber-attacks could potentially put passenger safety at risk if critical systems like aircraft controls get impacted.
Compliance Regulatory Requirements
Regulators, like the FAA in the US, now require airlines to have cybersecurity risk management plans. Non-compliance can lead to heavy penalties.
Financial Loss and Reputational Damage
A major cybersecurity breach would damage an airline’s brand reputation and trustworthiness. It could also lead to lawsuits, fines, and remediation costs.
Reliance on Connected Systems and Vulnerability
Vulnerabilities increase as airlines use more connected IT systems for things like passenger self-service and aircraft maintenance, so cybersecurity must keep pace.
How Airlines Can Improve Their Cyber Defenses
Though no system is 100% secure, there are steps airlines can take to strengthen cybersecurity, such as:
Conduct Regular Risk Assessments
Airlines should identify critical assets, vulnerabilities, and threats through cyber risk assessments as it allows for targeted mitigation actions.
Use Air Gaping and Redundancy
Alexander Döhne, cyber security manager at Frankfurt airport, notes, “If there is a cyber threat or attack, all its internet-facing systems could be disconnected with a fallback to emergency processes.”
In other words, airlines should isolate critical infrastructure like aircraft controls from other systems and build redundant backup systems for important functions.
Update and Upgrade Legacy Systems
Old legacy systems are old, some 30-40 years old, need to be updated to current security standards to “harden” vulnerabilities.
As Patrick Kiley, an information security expert at Mandiant, warns, “Any interface connecting very rapidly evolving technology with a piece of very old technology can be a security risk.”
The aviation industry should use multiple forms of identity verification to access sensitive systems, like biometrics or security keys, in order to prevent unauthorized access.
Develop a Cyber Incident Response Plan
They should have a plan to isolate systems, notify customers, recover data, and provide contingencies if a significant attack occurs.
Train Employees in Cybersecurity Awareness
Human error is a top cause of breaches, so training employees in cyber risks helps change behavior.
Implement AI Cybersecurity Monitoring
AI can help detect anomalies and emerging cyber risks faster through pattern recognition across networks; as Döhne explains, “AI will have a huge impact.”
Airlines need to make cybersecurity a main concern. Moreover, as more technology is used, there are more chances of cyber attacks, which can put passenger safety at risk and damage an airline’s reputation and finances. Consequently, airlines need to dedicate enough money and resources to prevent cyber threats.