Hackers have been around for a very long time now. But this has happened for the first time ever in the history of aviation industry and cyberspace. 1400 passengers were grounded on 21 June 2015 at the Warsaw Chopin airport after the Polish Airways announced that hackers had breached its ground computers, which are used to issue flight plans. Because of the cyber-attack the airline was unable to create flight plans for outbound flights from its Warsaw hub because of which outbound flights from Warsaw were not able to depart. 20 flights were cancelled and several others were delayed as a result of the cyber attack.
Luckily no midair collisions were caused by the cyber-attack, else hundreds of innocent lives would have been lost. What Poland witnessed is just the tip of the iceberg. Aviation industry is amongst the most networked critical infrastructure which relies very heavily on computer controlled systems and data banks. Flight plans, flight detection & identification, flight safety & protection, everything is based on automated systems. It is but obvious that hackers, cyber terrorists and non-state actors will try and break into such a lucrative target.
The dependence of aviation industry on automated networked systems is only going to increase in time. It is therefore essential that the aviation industry draws up its defences against such security breaches. Indian aviation industry also needs to take lessons from the hack. Air traffic over the Indian skies is much higher than Poland. We therefore urgently need to identify and secure all such systems which can fall prey to such cyber threats. Unless we act now, our airports too will very soon end up in a situation similar to Warsaw airport and the damage in our case will be much higher. The air traffic control organisation in India and the aviation industry, both public and private sectors must invest in sound cyber security protection programs. Penetration tests and mock cyber-attack drills must be carried out of such systems to identify their vulnerabilities and plug the gaps. Only then will we be able to provide safe skies to our citizens.
Based on news item available at http://edition.cnn.com/2015/06/22/politics/lot-polish-airlines-hackers-ground-planes/