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Security and cybersecurity: priorities for the aerospace sector

As the 2017 Paris Air Show has opened its doors, Marc Darmon, Executive Vice President, Secure Communications and Information Systems, speaks about the new security and cybersecurity challenges facing the aerospace sector as a whole. He points to today's investment priorities for airport security and explains how cybersecurity creates value by enabling new services for customers and passengers alike.

Marc Darmon, what are the main trends and developments in terms of security that you have seen since the last Paris Air Show in 2015?

In the last two years, security has forced itself to the top of the list of priorities for the entire aerospace economy. In addition to risks like break-ins, theft, sabotage — and of course acts of terrorism — new technological threats have emerged, such as cyberattacks and drones flying in the airspace around critical facilities.

Airports have not been spared. Quite the contrary. Airports are popular targets for attackers of all kinds and the number of different types of threats is growing rapidly. Airports are international hubs and attract an enormous amount of media attention. The general public can walk in relatively easily with large luggages that could contain weapons or explosives. It all makes airports especially attractive to terrorists. In the last 50 years, there have been 38 attacks on 25 different airports, and a sharp increase has been recorded in the last two years, with attacks at Istanbul and Brussels in 2016, and Orly and Fort Lauderdale in 2017.

In the field of cybersecurity, one key development is a growing awareness of the dangers, in particular on the part of the European and international aviation authorities. Cyber incidents (Ukraine’s Kiev airport in January 2016 and the Hanoi and Ho-Chi-Minh City airports in Vietnam in July 2016) have helped to focus attention on the risks. But the recent WannaCry ransomware attack and its impact on rail transport was really a major wake-up call. Cybersecurity is undoubtedly now a major cause of concern for decision-makers in the aerospace sector, and the issue is likely to become even more pronounced in the coming years.

Why has cybersecurity become so essential in the aerospace ecosystem?

Further digitalisation and even more system interconnection are the logical next steps as the aerospace sector, like every other sector, embraces the challenges of the digital transformation. Instead of closed systems communicating one-on-one, today we have an ecosystem that is completely interconnected and more open to the outside world than ever before.

Open, interconnected systems bring new opportunities and better performance, but also new risks as cyberattacks grow in number and sophistication. No computer system, including the systems used to fly aircraft or control air traffic, can ignore this fact, especially in view of the potentially devastating consequences of an attack.

Cybersecurity has become a central issue in air safety. At Thales, we have invested heavily in this area for a number of years and there is now a Group-wide policy in place to ensure that cybersecurity is built-in to all our products, systems and solutions, in particular for the aerospace sector.

Aren’t cybersecurity obligations an obstacle to progress?

Cybersecurity is not just an obligation: it's an opportunity to create value for our customers. It lets them benefit from the latest digital technologies without compromising system security or the safety of passengers and flight crews, while also protecting the interests of governments and citizens.

For example, cybersecurity makes it possible to provide better digital services to passengers in transit while protecting their personal data, as well as interactive in-flight entertainment systems with access to Internet, email, banking services, etc.



As nodes in the air transport network, airports are particularly sensitive places. What are the main security investments needed today?

Airport operators are facing two challenges simultaneously. They need to increase capacity as freight and passenger volumes continue to grow. And at the same time they need to protect the infrastructure itself, the people who use it or work there, airport operations and all the data that passes through.

Protecting the infrastructure involves providing security operators with the means to detect and qualify incidents, and to respond as fast as possible. With more sensors, the progressive arrival of the Internet of Things and growing use of social media, the datasets that need to be analysed are only getting bigger. Smart processing of all this data provides operators with a clear and easily readable global picture of the operational context, enabling them to focus on their core tasks. One priority for airport operators today is to extract relevant data using data analytics technologies to transform big data into smart data.

Protecting people involves checking their identities more closely, and controlling access to different areas according to strict rules about the different profiles of personnel and service providers who work at the airport. And as well as meeting security requirements, the passenger experience needs to be taken into account every step of the way. Airline passengers are becoming more and more demanding, so operators need to find the right balance of services available inside the airport while also stepping up security and making it as transparent as possible to users.


Protecting operations means making sure the airport can continue to function under any circumstances by centralising the management of all airport operations. That calls for new procedures and new technologies, protecting new systems to support integrated, optimised, coherent management of all airport operations.

Last but not least, protecting data involves deploying high-performance cybersecurity solutions to prevent cyberattacks on information systems — not only the systems used by the airport and its service providers, but also all the public connection points available in airports today. Each and every time these systems interact — and in a modern airport, that's a lot of interactions — there could be a way in for a cyberattacker, with potentially serious consequences on the systems we thought were secure.

Airports not only need to be secure. They need to be smart. That means adopting "smart security" solutions to make the most of the legacy systems that are already in place.