Israeli Researchers Helping The World’s Airline Industry Tackle Cyber-Security Threats

By David Shamah, The Times of Israel  July 22, 2015 Comments

This article was first published on The Times of Israel and was re-posted with permission.

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) has signed an agreement with Tel Aviv University under which a new joint center for innovation in aviation will be established in order to develop technologies to protect airline reservations systems, authentication for security purposes, and financial systems, as well as to develop ways to run airlines more efficiently using big data and advanced intelligence.

SEE ALSO: Israeli Company Trains Mice To Detect Explosives At Airports

Two weeks ago, the New York Stock Exchange was shut down for nearly four hours for still-unexplained reasons – possibly, according to some experts, due to hacker activities. That incident generated headlines all over the world, but there was a second unexplained outage as well on July 8 – the grounding of all flights by United Airlines for nearly an hour. Was it due to hacking? A United Airlines official said there was “no indication that this was caused by an outside entity,” but it wasn’t the first time United – or flights by other airlines – were grounded for “unexplained” reasons.

Hacker at work

That airlines are vulnerable to hackers is well-established. In June, for example, planes were grounded in Poland after hackers breached the network at Warsaw’s Chopin airport, causing delays that affected some 1,400 passengers. In May, United removed a passenger from a flight after he apparently hacked into a plane’s navigation system via its entertainment system. And in January, Malaysia Airlines saw hackers break into its website.

And airlines realize just how vulnerable they are. In May, United announced a Bug Bounty contest, inviting hackers to test its online systems to find weaknesses. Last week, the airline awarded a million frequent flier miles to two hackers were able to find vulnerabilities. While he couldn’t share the specifics of the hack (to prevent details of the vulnerabilities from coming out), Jordan Wiens, one of the winners, said that the bugs were somewhat “lame” – an indication that the system may not have been very well-protected.


Realizing it has a problem, IATA – which represents 260 airlines that are responsible for 83% of the world’s airline flights – has teamed up with Tel Aviv University to develop security systems in a variety of areas. With the agreement, IATA joined the companies’ forum of Tel Aviv University’s cyber center, and helped organized an international cyber-security conference that took place at Tel Aviv University last month. As part of the joint activity, IATA’s representatives, together with Tel Aviv University’s international cyber center, will identify technologies and information that are relevant to the field of international flight.

To continue reading this article on the TOI site, click here

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