When we think about the ways in which the COVID-19 pandemic has affected the aviation industry, our minds naturally drift to thoughts on passenger and flight cancellations, new health codes, and grave financial losses. But according to a July 2021 think paper by EUROCONTROL, the pandemic has forced the aviation industry to face another growing phenomena with negative implications: cybercrime.
The Effects of the Digital Embrace
Cyberthreats are not new to the aviation industry. The world of consumerism is becoming increasingly digital, and airports and airlines – in an effort not to lag behind other industries – have invested substantial resources in digitizing their respective services. While digital services are what consumers want, they also expose the industry to cyberthreats.
Where there is cyber activity, there are cyberattacks. In fact, the aviation industry has experienced quite a lot of them – and some of them are quite severe. For example, this article from the CnSight website blog chronicles the aviation industry’s top five cyberattacks, which crippled some of the world’s major airlines. But severity aside, the EUROCONTROL think paper describes a reality in which cyberattacks happen on a regular basis – from phishing scams and fake websites to ransomware attacks – and cost the industry billions of dollars every year.
Aviation players are aware of this threat, and are trying to combat it. According to a report by Mordor Intelligence, the aviation-based cyber security market will grow at a rate of 11% (CAGR) between 2021 and 2026. The reasons for this expected growth are increased digital activity and preparation for heightened cyber threats.
The COVID-19 Negative Momentum Shift
As we all know, COVID-19 has made everything more complicated. Unfortunately, the pandemic has also ushered in a new era for cybercrime directed at aviation industry players. The numbers are astounding. How astounding? According to the EUROCONTROL think paper, which relies on data compiled by EATM-CERT, there was a 530% increase in cyberattacks against the aviation industry in 2020, compared to 2019. Here are some additional hair-raising stats: a significant ransomware attack is deployed against the aviation industry every week. Airlines, which EUROCONTROL identified as targets 775 times in 2020, reported huge financial losses due to cyberattacks.
This troubling trend raises some important questions, which must be addressed by major industry players and policy makers. Why is the aviation industry so prone to attacks? Is current regulation suited for today’s aviation cyber security challenges? Should industry standards regarding cyber security be higher? Are industry organizations sharing data regarding security breaches with one another? And should we begin to fear cybercrime that can potentially compromise passenger safety?
These are all very important questions – and there are many others. One thing is certain: All industry stakeholders must work together to better understand cybercrime – because it is not going to dwindle on its own.
One of the key questions moving forward is the role of innovation in creating better aviation cyber resilience. To us, as innovation experts, the answer is obvious. Since our inception in 2015, Cockpit Innovation has invested in cybersecurity technology that is designed to help aviation organizations better protect themselves and their customers. We truly believe that innovative cybersecurity can make an immense difference, and facilitate a better response to major threats.
But once we dig a little deeper, we begin to understand that when it comes to the aviation industry, the story of innovative technology is not only about defense, protection and effective implementation. Like all game-changing technology, the role of advanced cyber security is to raise and crystallize real challenges, bring truths into the open, create a discussion among leaders and policy makers, and most importantly – stimulate effective communication and collaboration across the entire industry.
In the end, in order to battle cybercrime, we need more data, more analysis, more transparency and more open dialogue between industry players. New technology has the power to provoke such important activity.
So, is the aviation industry cyber-resilient? There is no simple answer to this question. But one thing is for sure: we must all try to answer it together.