Key technology

With regard to the current development in the field of drones and air taxis, the importance of automation and autonomy of aircrafts increases, and together with this a secure communication.

“The greater the autonomy in the field of airborne platforms, the higher the need of a secure communication. The focus must always be on a secure and efficient operation, also for non-nominal states, i.e. in case of necessary deviations from the planned course of flight”, says Michael Kälber, cryptology expert at Thales.

Where, in case of need or an emergency, aircrafts staffed with pilots may be able to react without any communication with the outside world, (partly) autonomous aircrafts like drones or air taxis – for example the Volocopter – rely on the communication with others. The normal operation of drones requires continuous communication with the operations base, and between the aircrafts themselves. For normal flight operation, an air taxi – today’s concept involves at least one pilot – requires the above-mentioned communication possibilities, for example between the pilot and the base. In urban operation cases of air taxis, further long-range communication relations exist between the air taxis and the various possible landing locations, between avionics and a central database or the order management, between the taxis themselves, or between the passenger and the base. All these applications are critical to security and must therefore be protected.

Securing the communication of all airborne platforms comprises two main aspects: On the one hand, the securing of data during the transfer that is generally done in encrypted form. The communication partners must be provided with the required mission-related keys in advance. Here, key management systems are used that handle the key management themselves – from generation via distribution to the aircrafts through to loading into the communication devices. On the other hand, the sensitive data on board of the aircraft must be protected. This includes the keys used for communication with the environment, as well as all sensitive and mission-related data like target data or route planning data.

For many decades, Thales Deutschland has been developing key management systems, especially in the fields of Defence & Security and Transportation. Among others, this includes key distribution systems that are managing the keys’ whole life cycle, as well as key management components on board of airborne platforms. Distribution systems, such as VESUC, ensure the cryptographic provision for the A400M and other airborne platforms, and cryptographic components ensure the secure, manual data transport of electronic keys, or the key management on board of aircrafts.

Thales Deutschland meets the constantly increasing security requirements and the need for provision of up-to-date cryptographic methods and processes with the continuous development of the key management product line and cooperates with partners in industry and academia to develop new concepts and device generations for encryption and key management.