Critical Read

GAO: Planes vulnerable to cyberattacks

airliner

What: "Air Traffic Control: FAA Needs a More Comprehensive Approach to Address Cybersecurity as Agency Transitions to NextGen," a Government Accountability Office report.

Why: The FAA is transitioning from its aging air traffic control system to its Next Generation Air Transportation System (NextGen) system that interconnects with aircraft systems, which in turn can be connected to Wi-Fi and the Internet. The complex interconnections are necessary for NexGen, but leave air traffic control (ATC) operations vulnerable to hackers.

The study said FAA's NextGen faces cybersecurity challenges in at least three areas: protecting ATC information systems; protecting aircraft avionics used to operate and guide aircraft; and clarifying cybersecurity roles and responsibilities among multiple FAA offices.

GAO said that even though FAA has been taking steps to protect ATC systems based on recommendations from GAO in January, "significant security-control weaknesses remain."

FAA has agreed to address the weaknesses identified in the new report, but GAO said the agency will continue to be challenged in protecting ATC systems because it has not developed a cybersecurity threat model.

Verbatim: "FAA is taking steps to align agency cybersecurity orders and policies, as well as IT infrastructure and governance, with the changing needs of the NextGen cyber environment. In November 2013, the Chief Information Officer (CIO) and Chief Information Security Officer (CISO) under the FAA’s reorganized IT office began reorganizing and rewriting cybersecurity-related policies and plans agency-wide, and restructuring the agency’s IT infrastructure and governance, in part to address the shifts in cybersecurity activities and roles due to ATC modernization. According to FAA, a working group expects to complete a draft by September 2015 that reflects the restructuring of IT infrastructure."

About the Author

Mark Rockwell is a senior staff writer at FCW, whose beat focuses on acquisition, the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Energy.

Before joining FCW, Rockwell was Washington correspondent for Government Security News, where he covered all aspects of homeland security from IT to detection dogs and border security. Over the last 25 years in Washington as a reporter, editor and correspondent, he has covered an increasingly wide array of high-tech issues for publications like Communications Week, Internet Week, Fiber Optics News, tele.com magazine and Wireless Week.

Rockwell received a Jesse H. Neal Award for his work covering telecommunications issues, and is a graduate of James Madison University.

Click here for previous articles by Rockwell. Contact him at mrockwell@fcw.com or follow him on Twitter at @MRockwell4.


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