Cyber Security breaches in the Aviation Industry – How can Quality Engineering help?

On 21st May 2021, India’s national carrier, Air India, announced that its data servers were subjected to a cyber-attack. It stated that the security breach had compromised the personal data of 4.5 million customers worldwide.

This form of cyber-attack is neither surprising nor new. In October 2020, British airways had to pay £20m ($26m) as a fine for a data breach of more than 400,000 fliers in 2018.

There had been a few other cyber-attacks in the last five years that have jeopardized the personal data of millions while also costing the airline company in terms of lost revenue and reduced trust from customers.

Over the last decade, the aviation industry has undergone a major technology upheaval. Such a giant leap in technology advancements has resulted in an increased frequency of cyber-attacks targeting the industry. Therefore, the need for building a cyber-resilience in the aviation sector is more crucial now, than ever.

To build such a robust airline cyber-security network, businesses would need to customize their cybersecurity strategy. A one-size-fits-all approach is no longer going to help the cause here. It’s in this regard that quality engineering plays a significant role.

Most quality engineering frameworks designed to tackle cybersecurity threats in aviation consider various risk landscapes, threat dealing capacities of existing security structures, and other factors related to aviation security.

Here are some points that will help you understand how quality engineering helps prevent and manage cyber threats in aviation.

Tackling the challenges associated with Big Data.

The global aviation industry is sitting on a gold mine of personal data. As per the pre-COVID numbers in 2019, more than four billion passengers were boarded by the global airline sector. Being privy to such a vast amount of personal data invites immense responsibility of protecting and managing it.

Big Data comes to the rescue for those aviation companies looking to manage this large chunk of data efficiently. However, without a robust security network, managing such sensitive data can be very risky.

A major challenge in creating a sturdy security infrastructure for Big Data is not limited to building the structure but testing it for performance, usability, efficiency, and other factors. This where quality engineering and digital assurance service providers come in with their technical expertise and professional experience.

Ensuring strict adherence to the security compliances in aviation

Globally, several countries and institutions such as ISO 270001/2, CSF, NIST, CIS20 and many such organizations have come with their own set of cybersecurity best practices and regulations. However, this plethora of cybersecurity frameworks does not serve the cause here because there is a lack of a binding universal cybersecurity regulation.

Over the period, International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), an UN-funded organization, has come up with various regulations and best practices. These include Standards and Recommended Practices (SARPs), DO-178C, Procedures for Air Navigation Services (PANS), Resolution A40-10 of 2019, etc. But most of these are just recommendations and still not mandatory.

Since there is no universal cybersecurity regulation, the aviation industry has to follow most of the recommended practices, given both by countries and organizations. Following these regulations not just means implementation but also validating that all of these works properly as required. This is where quality engineering comes into the picture.

It is only through quality engineering methodologies that businesses can confirm if their avionics software has properly embraced all the technological regulations.

Guiding technology investments towards the right aviation security tools

As already discussed, globally, cybersecurity in aviation is a fragmented domain. Whether it’s following regulations from the myriad of recommended practices or identifying vulnerabilities, there is no standard rule for everyone.

Moreover, the aviation sector can be divided into two sub-sectors – passenger transport and air cargo transport. So, the security aspects in both these sub-sectors would not be different. Therefore, depending on the region and the sub-sector in aviation, cybersecurity threats and vulnerabilities need to be identified.

Identifying vulnerabilities can help businesses in the aviation sector with early detection and timely prevention of cyber-attacks. However, such identification, as well as detection and prevention, can only be done if airline companies have the right QA tools.

While some of these tools are open-source, others need investment. Quality engineering and technology assurance frameworks help organizations decide on which tools to invest in if and when necessary.

Improving the Incident management and emergency planning in aviation

Cyber-attacks are unpredictable! There are different kinds of cyber-threats, ranging from ransomware to Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS). So, no matter how well-prepared an organization’s IT teams are, cyber-attacks tend to surprise them with something or the other.

Does that mean that it’s impossible to prevent an attack?

No! Preventing a cyber-attack is only one part of cybersecurity planning. Enterprises also need to formulate scalable plans that can mitigate the damage done during a security breach. It includes having a contingency plan to make sure safety-critical operations continue to run even during cyber incidents.

Quality engineering and business assurance frameworks facilitate enterprises in incident management and emergency planning. These frameworks and methodologies help businesses test their existing security infrastructure to pinpoint those business-critical components where the emergency response must arrive instantaneously during an attack.

Closing Thoughts

The airlines industry, over the period, has realized that building a cyber-resilience security infrastructure and implementing security guidelines are essential but not sufficient. For 360-degree cyber protection, businesses need to regularly test their security measures with respect to the evolving nature of security breaches.

Usually, aviation companies are not always well-equipped with all the quality assurance and technology assurance measures. This is where quality engineering service providers chip in with their technical expertise and professional experience.

Moreover, cyber-security is one area where not just one layer but multiple layers of protection are required to safeguard it comprehensively. Therefore, even aviation companies with a full-fledged QA team need to seek expert guidance from quality engineering firms testing their cyber-security measures.

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