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Cyber solutions

Helen Massy-Beresford finds out about a growing threat for air cargo operators and what they are doing to combat it

Protecting air cargo against cyber threats is a growing concern for the industry – regulators and operators both agree that analysis, information-sharing and technological advances all have a role to play in tackling the very real cyber threats to the global sector. 


According to a 2015 survey by consultancy PwC, 85% of airline CEOs are concerned about the subject, compared with 61% of CEOs in other industries, highlighting the importance of the issue. 


Cyber attacks, whether motivated by politics, economics, activism or terrorism, can take different forms – everything from malicious software or malware, which can spread through an organisation’s IT system, to one of the most common types known as denial-of-service – where a large number of bogus requests prevents an operator from responding to genuine requests. 


“Air cargo data information is increasingly exchanged electronically between the relevant stakeholders within the supply chain,” says a spokesperson for IATA. “If this data exchange is not properly protected it could be hacked, with the consequence that a consignment could be a target for attacks, thus posing a threat to the safety of aviation in general, not only for cargo. However, it has to be noted that in the air cargo supply chain the ability to interact with a system may be misrepresented as an ability to take control of it. Actions that may be possible in ‘laboratory conditions’ may not be replicable in the real word, where tools and techniques may be in place of which outsiders may be unaware.”


Airlines, airports, national bodies, regulators and technology specialists are working together to combat cyber threats but the air cargo industry faces some specific challenges that set its response apart from that of the passenger side of the industry. 


Davide Martini, Aviation Cyber Security Officer at EASA, says that while passenger and cargo operators may approach cyber threats in the same way, there are differences in terms of vulnerability.


“The window of opportunity to carry out a certain kind of attack on a cargo airliner is larger if the attack requires the aircraft to be on the ground, this is because there is a longer availability of the aircraft on the ground while cargo is loaded,” he says.


On the other hand, Martini says: “The risks are definitely lower in a case where the attack is carried out from inside the aircraft when it is flying.”


EASA is in the process of setting up the European Centre for Cyber Security in Aviation. “We are going through a pilot phase for the centre where initial members will meet and decide the precise rules of the game and start to test the services that can be provided,” Martini says, adding that initial meetings are expected to take place before the summer. >>

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