Securing Aviation Systems with Cybersecurity

Posted on by Isla Sibanda

Securing Aviation Systems with Cybersecurity

Cybercriminals, hacktivists, malicious nation-states, and other threat actors have turned to exploit vulnerabilities in aviation systems, meaning increased efforts need to be made to secure endpoints and protect valuable data. Military, commercial, and regulatory aviation organizations have all been subjected to cyber attacks in the last five years, and this trend shows no sign of slowingIn this article, we will discuss the biggest challenges the aviation industry faces in terms of cybersecurity and what modern techniques can be implemented to test and secure systems.


The Importance of Cybersecurity in The Aviation Industry

Cybercriminals have identified the aviation industry as a prime target, attempting to steal valuable data, cause disruption, launch ransomware attacks, and other illegal activity. Should an aviation system be compromised, the financial impact and damage to reputation can be significant, possibly even irreparable. 


A data breach can grant a threat actor, whether that be a nation-state or criminal group, access to hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of records containing personal data. Furthermore, attacks that aim to cause disruption can impact aircraft performance, potentially causing a major safety risk. Such an event could even put an organization out of business forever. 


Challenges the Aviation Industry Faces

Before we discuss how to secure aviation systems, it is important to understand the key challenges that need to be overcome. 


The Inherent Complexity of the Aviation Ecosystem

A key challenge of testing aviation security systems is the complexity and interconnectivity of the large number of components that comprise the aviation ecosystem. This sprawling network includes a wide range of technology, from aircraft avionics to IoT devices used by ground support and cloud-based communication networks. This makes it very difficult for cybersecurity teams to identify and mitigate any vulnerabilities.


Aviation technology also changes at a lightning pace, leaving security teams struggling to keep up to implement the necessary protection and conduct the latest forms of testing. Life is also made even harder by strict safety regulations and standards, providing a stumbling block when trying to balance security testing and achieving compliance.


Penetration Testing on Live Systems

Conducting a penetration test on a live aviation system could impact the efficiency of operations, potentially leading to disruptions as well as presenting a safety risk. This means testing has to take place in a controlled environment using simulated systems. The downside to this is that a controlled environment will not reproduce a real-world system exactly, undermining the accuracy of the test.


How to Secure Aviation Systems: A Risk-Based Approach

Thankfully, due to the digitized nature of the aviation industry, implementing real-time cyber security monitoring and data analysis is more viable than ever, helping to secure systems and pre-empt an attack. One effective approach is a risk-based cybersecurity strategy. 


A risk-based methodology prioritizes vulnerabilities based on their risk level, with high-risk vulnerabilities assessed and mitigated before medium or low-level vulnerabilities. The risk level is determined by the potential impact on a critical system or infrastructure. With this approach, security teams can better allocate time and resources more efficiently, as well as be able to better develop targeted penetration tests. 


In addition, security teams can gain more detailed insights and a thorough understanding of potential cyber-attacks, resulting in improved threat intelligence regarding the aviation industry.  This risk-based approach can also be combined with the deployment of advanced simulation environments to provide more exact reproductions of real-life systems, thus boosting the accuracy and effectiveness of any penetration tests.


Securing Aviation Systems with Cybersecurity: Conclusion

The aviation industry is frequently targeted by cybercriminals and malicious threat actors. However, securing aviation systems can be challenging for many factors. The inherent complexity and interconnected ecosystem create a large number of endpoints. Determining the full attack surface of this ecosystem can be very difficult.  In addition, constant technological changes mean security teams can sometimes struggle to implement the latest testing procedures, while conducting penetration testing on live systems also presents significant risk.


To combat these challenges, an approach that prioritizes vulnerabilities based on their risk level is the best way to allocate resources and develop efficient testing. Developing advanced simulation environments can improve the accuracy of penetration, replicating a live system as best as possible. 

Isla Sibanda

Freelance Writer,

Protecting Data & the Supply Chain Ecosystem

critical infrastructure infrastructure security Network / Infrastructure Security

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