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9/23/2016
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Advisory Body Calls For Stronger Cybersecurity Measures Across Airline Industry

Measures are designed to bolster operational security across all stakeholders in the aviation sector, Wall Street Journal says.

RCTA, a private not-for profit organization that develops recommendations for performance and operational standards for the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), has reportedly called for new cyberscurity measures across the entire aviation industry.

The measures are designed to address potential cyber threats to aviation equipment and infrastructure both on ground and in the air, the Wall Street Journal reported this week.

The RCTA, according to the Journal, has developed a so-called drafting guide for performance standards in the aviation industry. The guide, prepared with the help of more than 30 cybersecurity experts was handed to senior officials at the FAA last week. But it has not been released publicly yet.

The main emphasis of the RCTA’s recommendations is on ensuring that manufacturers, carriers, maintenance facilities and airports maintain an adequate level of cyber preparedness on a routine, day-to-day basis. The long-term goal is on ensuring not only that systems are properly secured up front when in development but also on making sure the systems are maintained that way during operations, the Journal reported, quoting the co-chairman of the FAA advisory group.

The RCTA’s drafting guide for performance standards calls for measures like manufacturers requiring to implement a layered approach to mitigate software and hardware threats and measures for dealing with vulnerabilities in downstream systems.

Similarly, it calls for measures like signal detection spoofing capabilities in cockpit systems for warning pilots about unauthorized digital transmissions in air. Another example that the Journal noted in its report was the need for aircraft to have tamper-resistant in-flight entertainment systems.

The RCTA’s report does not however mandate any specific engineering safeguards or requirements for the aviation industry, the Journal added.

The RCTA’s members come from a wide cross-section of the air transportation sector, including the manufacturing community, airports, aviation service providers, the Department of Defense, and from research and development organizations. It claims to have been behind most of the recent advances in aviation technology and operational improvements. “Our products serve as the basis for government certification of equipment used by the tens of thousands of aircraft flying daily through the world’s airspace,” it says on its website.

The RCTA’s reported move to require more stringent security requirements for stakeholders in the air transportation sector comes amid signs of elevated cyber risk within the sector.

In a report published earlier this year, consulting group PricewaterhouseCoopers said that a global airline survey it conducted in 2015 showed a high degree of concern over cybersecurity within the airline industry. Some 85 percent of airline CEOs in the PwC survey cited cybersecurity as a major risk likely because of the very sensitive nature of passenger data and flight systems, PwC had said. That was significantly higher than the 61 percent of CEOs from other industries that feel the same way.

The report highlighted what PwC said was the growing threat to airlines from technology that is being used to improve connectivity between ground crews, flight operations systems and air traffic systems. Such connectivity can improve operational and financial performance for airline companies but it also exposes them to greater risk from attackers, PwC said.

The PwC report expressed concern in particular with the tablet-based electronic flight bags (EFBs) used by a growing number of pilots instead of binders and with the installation of new in-flight entertainment systems and WiFi connectivity.

The FAA’s planned modernization of air traffic control via its Next Generation Air Transportation System (NextGen) is another evolving area of concern for the aviation sector, PwC said. The concern here has to do with the fact the NextGen calls for air traffic control systems to be connected to the Internet, thereby increasing their exposure to online threats.

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Jai Vijayan is a seasoned technology reporter with over 20 years of experience in IT trade journalism. He was most recently a Senior Editor at Computerworld, where he covered information security and data privacy issues for the publication. Over the course of his 20-year ... View Full Bio

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