How secure is your airline from cyberattacks?

January 29, 2016

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By Jonathan Kletzel, US Transportation & Logistics Leader, PwC

Security is a major issue for airlines. And, increasingly, security is focused on cyber attacks because of changes in how airlines operate. Airlines are using the Internet to connect pilots with ground crews and with airport and air traffic control, leading to greater efficiency. Airlines are also responding to consumer demand for entertainment choices and in-flight connectivity for mobile devices used for streaming. While these are welcome changes, they create greater opportunities for, you guessed it, hackers. Given the highly sensitive nature of flight systems and passenger data, it’s no wonder that airlines are very concerned with how to deal with cyber threats.

Considering the critical implications of this issue, our fourth annual Aviation Perspectives report kicks off a new four-part series that takes a multifaceted look at cybersecurity in the airline industry. While no security system is absolutely foolproof, airlines can institute a program that systematically prevents and detects cyberattacks as well as helps them react in ways that contain damage. The series will examine each of these areas and discuss actionable steps that airline executives can take to prepare for the evolving risks.  

airlines cyberIn our series introduction, we look at how cyber threats will continue to grow in number, cost, and sophistication as well as the unique concerns of the airline industry. While airline security procedures have been effective so far, there are changes in the industry that are creating more access points for hackers including: 1) the widespread use of tablet-based electronic flight bags (EFBs); 2) the expansion of in-flight entertainment and wi-fi connectivity systems; and 3) the modernization of air traffic control. These threats need to be managed holistically, with airlines closely cooperating with other carriers, hardware and software providers, airports, aircraft OEMs, and other industry stakeholders.

In subsequent parts of this series, we outline a cyber security strategy that includes ways to prevent, detect, and react to attacks.  While an airline’s first goal is to prevent incidents, it is evident that threats in today’s environment cannot be entirely prevented. So, as in other industries, airlines have to plan for how to deal with an attack when it occurs. Quick detection can help to contain the damage and rapid response will help to mitigate the fallout to an airline’s reputation. As with any rapidly evolving ecosystem, we need to consider both today’s risks and those on the horizon.

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