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The 4 Biggest Aerospace Cybersecurity Challenges
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Martin Horan

By: Martin Horan on January 22nd, 2020

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The 4 Biggest Aerospace Cybersecurity Challenges

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The aerospace industry is a particularly alluring target for cybersecurity hackers, which also means that those working in the industry need to be aware of possible threats. Here are four of the biggest and most common cybersecurity challenges faced by the aerospace industry.

1. Emergence of New Technology

Living in an increasingly digital world presents cybersecurity challenges for several industries, including the aerospace industry. Transitioning your data to digital practices over the past few decades has likely left vulnerabilities in your processes. Today, as companies in the aerospace sector increase their reliance on digital data storage, these vulnerabilities are sure to be exploited by hackers.

Data storage is only one cause for concern. Non-secure digital communication methods can put secure data, and potentially lives, at risk. For example, in 2017, a U.S. airline revenue flight was in oceanic airspace when the flight crew received a text message from an air traffic controller. The text provided clearance for an altitude change, but unfortunately, the clearance was intended for another flight. Using this non-secure form of communication outside the normal channels could have proven fatal for the flight crew if the mistake had not been discovered. 

2. Drastic Increase in Technology

In addition to new technology emerging in the aerospace industry, the sheer volume of technology being used daily can open organizations up to cybersecurity threats, too. Think about life 20 years ago. While the internet was starting to be integrated into daily operations, there were limited points of entry for a hacker – a computer or a solution connected to dial-up internet. Today, your laptop, your phone, and maybe even your smartwatch are connected to the internet. Hackers have more opportunities than ever to infiltrate solutions housing valuable data or controlling airplanes that are in flight. 

Consider the vast amount of technology aerospace companies use every day – in-flight wireless internet, pilots’ electronic flight bags (EFBs), smartphones in the air and on the ground. While modern technology plays a role in making operations more efficient and flights safer than ever, it also presents more options for hackers who may want to break into your organization’s digital solutions. 

3. Hackers are Smarter than Ever

Hackers’ attempts are breaking into companies’ private servers and solutions are growing more sophisticated and more effective by the day. Organizations in the aerospace and defense sectors are constantly at risk of being targeted by a highly skilled hacker, who can penetrate vulnerabilities solutions by using cloud-based services and potent viruses. The growing level of sophistication means that hackers can reach more companies faster than ever. 

While those in the aerospace industry may want to increase their security measures and stand up against these emerging threats from hackers, the process is a complicated one and companies may encounter roadblocks. Budgetary constraints or a misunderstanding of the threat can make it more challenging than ever to contend with the threats posed by hackers. 

Nefarious parties also have access to cutting edge technology, which also contributes to the growing threat of a cybersecurity attack. For example, UAS (unmanned aircraft systems) or drones can be easily purchased with a single click on Amazon. As this level of technology grows more affordable and accessible, bad actors will find a way to exploit this technology, either by purchasing their own drones or hacking into drones used by other organizations. This can present a significant threat from a national security standpoint. Drones in the wrong hands can be used to conduct surveillance on or even harm people. 

4. Lack of Uniformity in Cybersecurity Standards

In terms of prescribed cybersecurity measures, it’s difficult for aerospace organizations to find a single source of truth. This lack of uniformity in cybersecurity standards across the aerospace industry can make it difficult for companies to identify steps they should take to increase cybersecurity measures and protect against hackers.

Without a unified federal approach to cybersecurity measures, mainly due to a lack of Federal Acquisition Regulation cybersecurity rules, you likely feel on your own when it comes to identifying which security measures you should have in place. And, left to their own devices, many companies won’t have the best security measures in place, due either to lack of budget or lack of concern about the outcomes. 

One helpful place to look for guidance on cybersecurity measures in the Aerospace Industry Association. The AIA has outlined some cybersecurity priorities that may help to gain clarity on the steps that should be taken. 

  • Promoting collaboration between the aerospace industry and the government to ensure any future government controls are both effective and reasonable for aerospace and defense contractors and subcontractors.
  • Ensure security measures are in place to manage, track, and report aerospace cybersecurity threats.
  • Tailor NIST SP 800-171 to take a Risk Management approach based on relevant threats.
  • Ensure Department of Defense contractors know they are responsible for protecting Covered Defense Information (CDI).
  • Identify and prioritize the most important CDI for protection.

How to Protect Your Data

So, in the face of all these cybersecurity challenges, what actions should aerospace companies take to better protect their solutions from security threats? Here are a few steps to consider:

  • Research Cybersecurity Best Practices. Start by looking into security recommendations for both aerospace and defense industries. With a better understanding of what’s expected, you’ll have a better idea of what actions to take. 
  • Assess Your Current Measures. Before you can begin making changes, you need to identify what works and what doesn’t. Conduct an assessment of the security measures you currently have in place. 
  • Adopt the Appropriate Security Measures. Once you’ve identified where vulnerabilities exist, you’re ready to take steps to remedy those issues. Adopting the appropriate security measures should fix these issues. You may also want to consider adopting a cloud-based file sharing service that will provide you with a secure way to share and store your data. You can also find file sharing options that meet the security measures required by NIST 800-171. 
  • Conduct Ongoing Assessments. Finally, it’s important to remember that maintaining cybersecurity measures that you will need to keep a constant eye on your security measures. This means you will need to create an ongoing assessment plan and assign it to someone on your team. 

Now that you know more about the threats facing the aerospace industry, you’ll be better equipped to address these issues and ensure a secure environment for your data. Consider adopting a well aligned file sharing solution to make data security in the cloud easier than ever. 

Learn more about mitigating the risk of cybersecurity threats in your industry by downloading our free compliance guide

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About Martin Horan

Founder of FTP Today and an expert in secure file transfer and Internet protocols. A software and IT geek since a young age, Martin has successfully led his companies through the digital age by spotting market niches and filling them with quality IT services.

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