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Thales Exec: Connected Aircraft and the New Cyber Vulnerabilities

By Calvin Biesecker | April 12, 2018

As commercial aircraft increasingly become connected to the larger Internet of Things (IOT), the potential for safety risks also rise, the head of Thales’ business operations in the United States said on Wednesday. There have already been hacks of aircraft and aviation-related systems, including In-Flight Entertainment (IFE) systems, data communications between pilots and ground-based controllers, and airline operations systems that in one case in Europe caused flight cancellations, Alan Pellegrini, president and CEO of Thales USA, said.

Thales USA President and CEO Alan Pellegrini.

Thales USA President and CEO Alan Pellegrini. Photo: Thales

“I’m not trying to scare anybody but these things are happening,” Pellegrini said at the Aero Club of Washington, D.C., monthly luncheon. “As the aircraft become connected, there are real hacks.” Thales USA is part of France’s Thales Group.

The aviation industry has a strong foundation and culture of safety, Pellegrini said, adding that a culture of cyber security can be built on this foundation. He also pointed out that there are firewalls among the systems that are used to control the flight of aircraft and other communications and inflight entertainment systems. The safety features around the flight control systems are “robust,” he said, but there are shortcomings.

“I will submit to you there are many specifications that we get for systems to put on aircraft that don’t have well established security requirements and now we as a company, I know others do to, want to try and head that off and address them but I think as an industry we could collectively do more,” he said.

The aviation industry can learn from the lessons learned and best practices applied by other private sector groups such as financial services and retail to combat cyber threats, Pellegrini said. “Awareness is great, action is better,” he said. “And we have good models to work on.”

Pellegrini said he agrees that “today” the cockpit and flight control systems are “very well walled off.” But, he cautioned, with the increasing data connectivity between aircraft and ground systems…

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