Insight by Raytheon

Air space cybersecurity must evolve to handle expanding demands

Changes in National Air Space

There’s definitely technology, whether it’s battery technology or the ability to have electric rotors and things like that, coming together with new business concepts that will serve the general public in new and different ways,.

Expediting Capabilities Securely

At the end of the day, you want to go fast, but because of the criticality of the system you have to do it in a way where it’s secure, safety is a number of concern and you have to do it as efficiently as possible.

Cyberattacks are increasing in frequency, sophistication and threat. The aviation infrastructure is becoming more and more connected and therefore more vulnerable – from airport passenger systems, to communications to and from the aircraft, to onboard systems. A cyberattack on this critical infrastructure would be extremely destructive.

While the Federal Aviation Administration understands the importance of planning for and preventing against cyber threats at all levels, it’s not just one organization’s responsibility. It takes a holistic approach to secure the nation’s aviation infrastructure.

This challenges will only increase as the use of connected devices grows, as there are new entrants like drones in the national airspace system and the cyber threats continue to evolve.

A March 2019 Transportation Department inspector general report found the FAA has taken some steps to mitigate their cyber risks. For example, auditors say the FAA has completed a cybersecurity strategic plan, coordinated with other federal agencies to identify cyber vulnerabilities and developed a cyber threat model and cyber research and development plan.

Matt Gilligan, the vice president of the navigation, weather and services mission area at Raytheon, said all the new entrants in the air space like drones and urban air taxis change the way the national air space needs to be managed and secured.

“There’s definitely technology, whether it’s battery technology or the ability to have electric rotors and things like that, coming together with new business concepts that will serve the general public in new and different ways,” Gilligan said on Cyber Securing the National Airspace System sponsored by Raytheon. “This is something the agencies are all looking at because there is no question these advancements will happen. What role does industry play? What role does the government play? What’s going to be acceptable for the general public to adopt this? There are a lot of conferences and discussions about what we will do about these new entrants.”

The changing face of the national air space brings both a host of challenges and opportunities for the FAA, the federal government at large and industry.

Gilligan said the current air space system infrastructure is addressing the current needs of airlines, helicopters and other general aviation needs. But as drones, urban air taxis and the like take off, Gilligan said the current technology and processes will be overwhelmed.

“It’s not going to be done by expanding the capacity of the existing systems. It’s going to be new systems that will need to interoperate with the existing systems. How do you get the new and old systems to work together?” he said. “Probably the number one thing in our decades of experience working in the air space, safety is number one. I’d put cyber in that same category, it’s just as much of a safety issue as other traditional things. It’s out do you do that and make sure the system stays safe and is cyber secure.”

Gilligan said the new technology will be a combination of machine-to-machine communication and human oversight to manage all the different pieces and parts that will go into this air space system of the future.

“It’s almost a whole eco-system that has to be in place before these vehicles can fly,” he said. “For them to be able to fly safely, it’s about how will they get to where they want to go, and detect and avoid either other vehicles. What is the infrastructure that needs to make that happen?”

Gilligan said new sensors designed for low-altitude flying need to be in place to enable these new vehicles to fly.

He said the FAA, the companies developing and using these new entrants and service providers like Raytheon, must collaborate to develop the new systems and technologies to make this all work.

The FAA’s current effort to modernize its entire network of 5,000 nodes, the emergence of 5G technology and a new overall architecture to connect these systems will help push this effort forward.

Since many of these changes have to be software-based, Gilligan said one big change that is happening is the use of dev/sec/ops for applications.

“At the end of the day, you want to go fast, but because of the criticality of the system you have to do it in a way where it’s secure, safety is a number of concern and you have to do it as efficiently as possible,” he said. “Our approach to these large critical infrastructure type of things, starts with a vulnerability assessment. When you add these new entrants, there are new interfaces and new players, and all those represent potential new vulnerabilities. The second part of it is, what are the potential threats to this system, and given the vulnerabilities, that drives the solution? In almost every situation, it ends up being a layered defense.”

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