In a report released earlier this week, U.S. government watchdog group GAO (Government Accountability Office) warned that the increasing connectivity of our aircraft, from flight tracking technologies to in-flight WiFi, could give hackers an access point to tap in and potentially hijack a flight.

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“New networking technologies connecting FAA’s ATC information systems expose these systems to new cybersecurity risks, potentially increasing opportunities for systems to be compromised and damaged,” says the GAO.

“Such damage could stem both from attackers seeking to gain access to and move among information systems, and from trusted users of the systems, such as controllers or pilots, who might inadvertently cause harm.”

Speaking with FAA officials and experts, the GAO discovered that older, legacy systems are actually more difficult to access remotely than many modern systems, as the old systems do not connect directly to the FAA over the Internet. On the other hand, the NextGen systems will interoperate with one another, which means that if one system is compromised, others will be at risk as well.

The GAO says that although the FAA is “taking steps” to improve cybersecurity, there is more that can be done to protect our airlines from cyber threats.

“While FAA is working to transform the organization of its cybersecurity efforts,” says the GAO, “the experts we consulted said that it could improve upon those efforts by including all key stakeholders in its agency-wide approach. All 15 of our cybersecurity and aviation experts agreed that organizational clarity regarding roles, responsibilities, and accountability is key to ensuring cybersecurity across the organization.”

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