Managing airport IT security

by Rajat Khare    Apr 19, 2010

Information, today, has become one of the key drivers of growth and success across industries. Right from the government to big industries and corporates, everyone depends on the continuous and secure flow of information for making vital decisions, thus making the security of this information one of the key concern areas and challenges for all.

With the boom of cyber age, nations across the world are witnessing a new form of threat to their internal security and existence - "Digital Crime" or "Cyber Crime". Having been into existence since the launch of web world, Cyber Crime has expanded its horizon in tandem with the development of the World Wide Web. As the IT industry boomed and the web developed, new & better techniques of committing digital crimes came into existence.

Looking at this, one of the key areas of concern for all nations today is the security of their Airport networks and IT systems. Airports are bustling international hubs, providing services to hundreds of thousands of people from diverse locations on a daily basis. Overseeing airport security is an extremely complicated task, not just in the airport itself, but also on the airplanes. An attack on a weak network is enough to cripple an entire airport and bring it to a standstill for days together. Intrusion from a single point can lead to the attacker gaining entry into other network devices as well, which in turn will cause the entire network to crash.  Gauging the vulnerability of such important locations and following the September 11 attack on the US, a greater focus on airport security arose specifically designed to prevent terrorist activity.

A basic airport works on a wireless networking system with encrypted data. Such systems face a threat of intrusions from the outside world. These wireless networks can be broken into very easily as their encryption systems are not that strong. This can easily lead to jamming of the entire network and theft of important data from the systems and can eventually lead to a major lockdown.

Till recently, most wireless networks used the WEP systems which were very low on security. A WEP system could be intruded with simple softwares downloaded from the web. Thus looking at the security of these networks and after instances of exterior attacks or illegal use of wi-fi networks, the systems are slowly migrating to WPA/ WPA 2 systems which are more stable, secure in terms of their encryption and are difficult to get through.

To fully protect such networks, a foolproof and future proof solution is required. Unidirectional connectivity is the main security solution that can provide full protection to such remote monitoring networks. This requires a secure unidirectional communication system which will enforce unidirectional data flow by means of hardware/software and other logical ways. This one-way link is a communication appliance that allows data to pass through in one direction only. .One component can only transmit data to another component and not vice versa. Thus, video streams and camera metadata can be transferred only from a camera to the airport’s surveillance network, and not vice versa.

Similarly, there would be no bidirectional connection with air traffic control networks, and thereby threats of cyber attacks would be completely in control. In addition to the same the base computer network should be monitored for worms and viruses which can cripple the functioning too. The unidirectional link will enable data to flow securely from the sensor to the monitoring network or monitoring and control center. In simple terms, there will be no return link at the hacker’s disposal.

Another important activity is to implement security standards such as ISO27001 in airports which will not only help in securing the processes but also implement a framework to manage security in people, processes and technology. The modern age airports like Hyderabad airports have already adopted to the ISO27001 compliance.
Many airports in India have now taken up to a 360 degree approach to complete airport network security with the help of Appin Security Group, the leading IT and network security providers in the country. Competing with the global top, Indian airports are set for modernization. State-of-the-art IT systems and data centres are implemented to manage their operations and to deliver world class performance.  Airports also act as network service providers for third parties, such as airlines. All these steps boost efficiency and quality of service, but also increase the information security risks multi-fold.

We provide end-to-end security cover to all the networks based applications at Delhi International Airport, GMR International Airport in Hyderabad, Bangalore International Airport and to Airport Authority of India. Appin took the challenge of complete airport security management including security implementation, auditing, and people training and awareness, to ensure that the airport follows the road map of greater security. The task included a detailed security risk analysis with respect to   people, process and technology including vulnerability assessments, Penetration testing, configurations audit, backed by rigorous security risk analysis policies, procedures and IT security systems.

Post the September 11 attacks in the US, airports security systems across the world came under the hammer. In order to prevent such attacks in our country, GMR has taken up the initiative to check terrorist activities at our airports. According to a report, Terrorist hackers have outnumbered the security professionals in the country and there is a possible online threat to all the airports in India. Looking at the statistics gathered by us, we see an attempt of an average of more than 75 attacks on airports everyday from different parts of the world."

We work with the airports in order to prevent malicious attacks on our networks. We also provide specialized services which include tracking and checking hackers, especially international terrorist outfits, who usually make use of international airport infrastructure to run their operations. Thus, if there is any unwanted intrusion into our airport network, we immediately stop it and trace it back to the source.

(The author is the MD of Appin Security Group)