A Personal View expressed by Nico Voorbach

In January 2016 I went from being an active airline pilot to becoming the Civil Air Navigation Services Organisation (CANSO) representative of ICAO for the Air Navigation Service Providers (ANSPs). This led me to consider aspects of aviation security that had not, as a pilot, previously been at the forefront of my concerns. In particular, one of the fastest growing threats facing the industry is that of cybersecurity. As the technology we implement becomes more sophisticated, so too does the threat from people with malicious intent. Using our own systems against us, these people are capable of disrupting airports, airline operations and even aircraft mid-flight. Although this threat is not only against aviation, the aviation industry has to make it a higher priority.

Air Traffic Management (ATM) is changing rapidly. The industry already makes great use of information and communication technology, but continuing innovation and greater cost-efficiencies are required while initiatives like SESAR and NextGen promote the spread of network-based technologies and integrated approaches. The planned introduction of System-Wide Information Management (SWIM) will see even greater exchanges of data, with the various systems becoming more closely integrated. There are clear operational benefits to these developments but also risks in the form of greater security vulnerabilities. Cybersecurity threats range from simple acts of digital vandalism to major cyberattacks. ATM must tackle cybersecurity by assessing the vulnerability of processes, assets and, particularly, IT infrastructure to criminal activities and attacks, whether these involve staff or outside parties. The wide range of potential cyber-threats and the integrated nature of modern ATM demand a holistic approach and the involvement of all ATM stakeholders.

What concerns ANSPs the most is the vulnerability of the IT systems that control the ever-growing traffic around the world. We rely on technology to safely manage flights and keep aircraft separated from each other. Around the world institutions and government agencies are looking into the problem, but a viable global solution is still distant. Upgrades in technologies over the last 20 to 30 years were introduced when cyber-threats were not a major issue, resulting in open and non-encrypted data transfers.

SWIM will be based on Service Oriented Architecture and open and standard mainstream technologies meaning it will be vulnerable to all kind of interferences. Prior to full implementation, we need to ensure it is secure enough to maintain the integrity of the system.

ADS-B (Automatic Dependent Surveillance – Broadcast), is a surveillance technology in which an aircraft determines its position via satellite navigation and periodically broadcasts it, enabling it to be tracked. Information can be received by ATC ground stations as a replacement for secondary radar. It can also be received by other aircraft to provide situational awareness and allow self-separation via TCAS (Traffic Collision Avoidance System). However, ADS-B is also a non-encrypted data link. It has been shown that it is possible to project virtual aircrafts via ‘spoofing’. Although one extra target on a radar screen might not be a problem, multiple false targets might create a safety hazard. How does an air traffic controller react when his radar screen is filled with virtual targets? How do pilots react when their TCAS system reacts to virtual aircraft?