Aviation cyberattacks: Will planes start falling from the skies?

In November, a conference took place in Dubai, setting a precedent that, surprisingly, received little media attention. It should have as it represented a significant breakthrough in Israel’s relations in the Middle East neighborhood. While the main focus of the conference was not a subject matter that was unique – aviation security – the invited participants were.

Dubai, located in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) – one of 16 Muslim countries with a history of banning entry to Jews – openly welcomed some of Israel’s leading aviation security experts to participate in the conference. Who better for Muslim aviation security experts to confer with than Israeli aviation security experts who have successfully prevented terrorist attacks on El Al Airlines for decades now?

One would have thought, due to 1,400 years of Muslim hatred toward Jews with some voices calling for the latter’s eradication from the face of the earth, such a meeting was impossible. But two catalysts provided the stimulus to help overcome this historic hatred, bringing these archenemies together.

The first was an agreement also deemed highly unlikely to occur by most Middle East experts, although precedents for doing so already existed.

One precedent was set in 1979 when Israel and Egypt signed a peace agreement that has been honored for over four decades now. The second precedent was set in 1994 when Israel and Jordan also signed such an agreement. Despite the arsonist activities of the Jew-hating Palestinian leadership evidenced by its repeated efforts to set flash fires of violence against Israel, this agreement has survived for almost three decades.

These two precedents paved the way for the first catalyst by which the UAE and Israel were able to reset their relationship – executing an agreement in 2020, under the leadership of President Donald Trump, by which four more Muslim countries joined Egypt and Jordan in a peace initiative known as the Abraham Accords. This led to Israel’s diplomatic recognition and provided a door opening for the November conference in the UAE.

The second catalyst in allowing Jewish feet on UAE soil was the mutual recognition by the host nation and its guests that a major new threat to aviation security exists – one so troubling that it will take the contributions of a broad-based coalition of innovative minds to determine how best to defend against it. While we have already witnessed the threat’s effectiveness in other business sectors, it is only a matter of time before terrorists engage in it to pursue their sinister motives in the aviation sector. The purpose of the conference was to start the process by which any such an attack could be preempted.

Cyberattacks have become the modern-day criminal’s technological weapon. Employing sufficient safeguards to shield one’s identity or the originating source, criminal hackers enjoy limited risk in getting caught while they shut down database access critical to the operation of a business. We have already seen hackers successfully take down the largest fuel pipeline in the U.S., creating shortages across our East Coast – the result simply in this case of a compromised password. Also a victim of a cyberattack was the computer systems for Universal Health Services, denying medical personnel access to critical information with which to make lifesaving decisions. While the average hacker usually demands a ransom to release a system’s lockdown, a terrorist hacker will seek a much higher price – human lives – with no negotiations to be undertaken to save them.

In the aviation sector, while older aircraft are less vulnerable, newer passenger aircraft are extremely vulnerable. Imagine a pilot unable to regain control of a plane taken over by terrorist hackers. In effect, we could see a repeat of the 9/11 attack by terrorists who, safely operating on the ground, are able to create the same impact without sacrificing their own lives. We could well see airliners fall from the skies should terrorists develop this technical capability, effectively destroying the air travel industry for years to come.

With today’s advanced technology, cyberattacks present a threat with almost unlimited targeting capability. As the U.S. is now being put on the road to gasless vehicles and as more electric cars evolve, just think about cyberattacks being directed against them, effectively taking away control of vehicles from drivers, hijacked then to conduct kamikaze-like attacks.

Globally, the number of internet-connected cars in 2019 was 34% with an expected increase to 80% by 2035. Recognizing this and the potential threat it creates, Panasonic Corporation is developing a security system to prevent cyberattacks in cars. It involves installing software in vehicles that then would be monitored 24/7 by dedicated teams, located both at Panasonic and at the automaker’s facilities, to detect abnormalities.

Following the 9/11 attacks, it took the air passenger industry almost two years to recover. This was despite the fact immediate steps were taken to implement security measures that, to date, have avoided a repeat occurrence. Successful terrorist hacking attacks could sideline the industry for much longer.

Interestingly, one of the most important but overlooked aviation security issues of the day created a breakthrough opportunity for both Muslims and Jews to reevaluate their relationship and put 1,400 years of hatred behind them to find a solution. That is quite a testimonial as to the seriousness of this threat and the need to jointly find such a solution.

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This article was originally published by the WND News Center.

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