Advanced Software Security Aircraft Systems in Commercial Jets

Jack Austin

Advanced Software Security Aircraft Systems in Commercial Jets

The increasing connectivity and digitalization of aircraft systems in commercial jets have led to advancements in software security. With the use of internet protocol (IP) connectivity, data can now be transmitted to and from aircraft without the use of standard storage media. However, this advanced connectivity also introduces new cybersecurity vulnerabilities, which can potentially compromise the safety of the aircraft.

To address this issue, we, along with regulatory bodies such as the FAA and EASA, have implemented aircraft network security programs (ANSP). These programs aim to mitigate the risks to onboard network security and ensure the protection of critical data affecting aircraft airworthiness.

Various industry standards and guidelines, including those from organizations like RTCA, EUROCAA, FAA, EASA, A4A, Boeing, Airbus, SAE, and ARINC, play a crucial role in defining aviation cybersecurity standards. These standards encompass both regulatory requirements and best practices for operators to achieve compliance and maintain the security of aircraft systems and infrastructure.

Vulnerabilities in Aircraft Systems

Connected aircraft systems, including avionics and support systems, are vulnerable to cybersecurity threats. The use of multiple electronic devices and external data sources increases the potential entry points for hackers and malicious activity.

It is essential to detect and mitigate cyber intrusions to prevent unauthorized access and protect the security of platforms and avionics subsystems.

Key Vulnerabilities:

  • Diverse range of access points
  • Potential for unauthorized system access
  • Malware infections and cyber intrusions

Aircraft Cybersecurity Solutions:

CyberDAMS, an aircraft cybersecurity software, offers features such as a cross-domain approach leveraging machine-learning technology, vulnerability assessments, and forensics analysis. These technologies provide a framework for cyber protection teams to detect and respond to cybersecurity threats effectively.

SwRI (Southwest Research Institute) leverages their expertise in aircraft and aerospace engineering to develop avionics cybersecurity solutions, ensuring the safe and secure operation of aircraft systems.

The Cybersecurity Threat to Airline Aircraft

The integration of advanced IT systems in commercial aircraft, commonly known as “E-enabled” aircraft, presents a significant cybersecurity threat to the airline industry. As modern aircraft increasingly rely on onboard information and communication technology, the potential for cyber attacks on aircraft operations continues to grow. These cybersecurity threats can manifest in various forms, such as spoofing, exploiting vulnerabilities, denial of service attacks, and even counterfeiting.

This poses a significant challenge for the aviation industry as aircraft systems interact with numerous networks globally. While there may be differing views on the scale of the threat, there is a consensus that proactive mitigations are necessary to protect against cyber attacks and ensure the secure operation of airline aircraft.

To address this pressing issue, government agencies like the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), Department of Homeland Security, and Department of Defense are collaborating with industry stakeholders. Their collective efforts aim to develop comprehensive cybersecurity frameworks that safeguard the national airspace system and mitigate the risks associated with cyber threats on airline aircraft.

Cybersecurity Threats to Airline Aircraft

  • Spoofing: Unauthorized entities impersonating legitimate sources to gain unauthorized access to aircraft systems.
  • Exploiting vulnerabilities: Taking advantage of weaknesses in aircraft systems to compromise their security.
  • Denial of service attacks: Disrupting the availability or performance of aircraft systems, affecting their normal operation.
  • Counterfeiting: Introducing counterfeit or malicious components into aircraft systems, compromising their integrity and safety.

These threats highlight the critical need for robust cybersecurity measures to protect airline aircraft from malicious activities. The collaboration between government agencies, industry stakeholders, and cybersecurity experts is paramount in addressing these challenges and ensuring the safety and security of airline operations.

Aircraft Cybersecurity Requirements and the Pilot’s Role

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and industry stakeholders are aware of the critical need for aircraft cybersecurity requirements. In response, industry councils and committees, such as the Aviation Rulemaking Advisory Committee (ARAC), have proposed recommendations to enhance the protection of aircraft systems against cyber attacks. These efforts are fueled by the recognition that current federal aviation regulations lack specific provisions for addressing electronic cybersecurity vulnerabilities.

The pilot’s role in defending against cyber attacks is of utmost importance. As the individuals responsible for the safe and secure operation of flights, pilots play a crucial role in identifying and mitigating potential threats related to aircraft cybersecurity. However, existing airworthiness standards do not mandate aircraft systems to have the capability to monitor or detect cyber attacks, and flight crews often lack the necessary training and access to technology that would enable them to protect the aircraft.

Recognizing the need for comprehensive protection against cybersecurity risks in aviation, the U.S. Congress is actively working towards the development of a strategic framework. This framework aims to reduce cyber threats by establishing new standards and policies that address the emerging challenges presented by the digitalization of aircraft systems. Collaboration between government agencies, industry stakeholders, and pilots is fundamental in ensuring the cybersecurity of airline aircraft and maintaining the highest levels of safety for all flights.

Jack Austin