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Airports are ill-equipped to identify and respond to major cyber attacks and could face millions in damages, revealed a new research report issued by UK-based PA Consulting Group.

The report, ‘Overcome the Silent Threat’, says that the emergence of a hyper-connected system, where passengers in airports want fast internet and digital engagement with airlines and retailers, is making it easier for cyber criminals to exploit vulnerabilities.

According to the European Aviation Safety Agency, there are approximately 1,000 cyber attacks each month on airport and aviation systems across the globe.

PA Consulting study further points out that airports are at a higher risk of cyber attack due to digital transformation plans being adopted in day-to-day operations.

New data sharing responsibilities and connected networks are also creating greater risks for airports; however, they often do not know that such threats exist.

“If the industry does not act now, it will find itself at increased vulnerability to cyber attacks as new technologies become part of everyday operations.”

Most of the airports are exploring the option of providing remote control and monitoring for air traffic control systems, which could be one of the key trend increasing dependency on systems that may be subject to cyber attacks.

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By GlobalData

PA Consulting Group global transport security lead David Oliver said: “Fundamentally, the focus on physical security needs to be applied with the same rigour in the cyber arena if airports are going to build resilience to potentially catastrophic cyber attacks.

“If the industry does not act now, it will find itself at increased vulnerability to cyber attacks as new technologies become part of everyday operations.

“With the EU Network and Information Systems Directive, which aims to improve the cyber resilience of the UK’s essential services now in force, UK airports risk penalties of up to £17m for failing to put in place appropriate cyber security measures.”

In 2017, there were a number of ransomware outbreaks that affected the industry, such as LATAM Airlines, which had data encrypted by WannaCry and was asked to pay hackers to recover it.

While remote control towers offer many benefits, they were also found to pose cyber security problems.

“As remote towers are highly dependent on the data links that transmit information from one place to another, a cyber attack or physical attack could disrupt operations, including making it impossible to manage airport traffic,” said Oliver.

The latest report has been released following analysis and interviews with four major international airports.