Cyber Threats to the Aviation Industry

The aviation industry faces major risks on all of its fronts: from the air traffic control systems, to the aircraft themselves, to the airline companies and airports and border crossings. The identified threats stem from the current nature of aviation industry systems, which are interconnected and interdependent.

(Please note –  this blog post is an excerpt from our report: “Cyber Threats to the Aviation Industry”. If you are interested in receiving the full report please write to: info@sensecy.com)

On August 13, 2013, the AIAA officially released a Decision Paper entitled “A Framework for Aviation Cyber security”, outlining existing and evolving cyber threats to the commercial aviation enterprise and noting the lack of international agreement on cyber security in aviation. There is no common overall coordination of efforts seeking a global solution.

According to the report, the global aviation system is a potential target for a large-scale cyber attack with attackers focusing on malicious intent, information theft, profit, “hacktivism”, nation states, etc.

Aviation

The risks are not only theoretical. As portrayed below, some of the aforementioned security concerns have already been realized by hackers in real-life.

  • A presentation at the ‘Hack in The Box’ security summit in Amsterdam in April 2013 has demonstrated that it is possible to take control of an aircraft’s flight systems and communications using an Android smartphone.
  • Sykipot is a tool that serves as a backdoor that an attacker can use to execute commands on the affected system. It is being used to gather intelligence about the civil aviation sector in the U.S. Like most targeted attacks, Sykipot infects using spear-phishing techniques by sending emails with malicious attachments. Lately, as identified by Trend Micro, Sykipot has been observed gathering intelligence on the U.S. civil aviation sector. The intentions of this campaign are unclear as yet. Sykipot has a history of targeting U.S. Defense Initial Base (DIB) and key industries over the past six years.
  • Conficker, a worm that has infected millions of computers worldwide, infected the French Navy network on 2009, forcing it to cut connectivity to stop it from spreading, and to ground its Rafale fighter jets. It was probably introduced through an infected USB drive.
  • In 2008, Spanair flight 5022 crashed just after take-off, killing 154 people. According to the Spanish government’s Civil Aviation Accident and Incident Investigation Commission (CIAIAC), the disaster occurred because the central computer system used for monitoring technical problems in the aircraft was infected with a Trojan horse.
  • In 2008, the FAA reported that the computer network in the Boeing 787 Dreamliner’s passenger compartment was connected to the aircraft’s control, navigation and communication systems – a cause for grave security concern. This connection renders the plane control system vulnerable to cyber attack. Boeing advised that they would address the issue
Aviation sector under threat of cyber attacks

We believe that the aviation industry is facing major threats from cyberspace and these threats encompass large areas of the industry and may become a greater burden for it, compromising the safety of the passengers, and causing financial and commercial damage to the associated companies.


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