Remote Hijacking as a Possible Form of Terrorist Attack … Essay
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Airport Operator, ASC, and an Attack on Aviation
An airport operator is an entity that directs and manages an airport. This entity (usually an organization) oversees the linking of the airport to the community of airports around the world so that aviation transportation can be effected smoothly and seamlessly. If an airport is not operated efficiently, chances are airlines will not want to do business with them (fly there) if it can be avoided. Airlines are typically on an extremely tight schedule and must go where flights are best managed. An airport operator is responsible for providing the kind of service that major airlines expect.
However, many airports accept more than passenger jets: there are also cargo jets, charters, flight training and military planes that can come and go. Each of these requires special attention and consideration. Thus, an airport operator has a lot to do take make sure all cogs are spinning consistently.
Therefore, a usual airport operator will be responsible for developing the facility (airport, which can become like a small metropolis due to all the flow of passengers), maintaining the facility, managing the terminal, maintaining utilities, overseeing the airfield, enforcing the law of the airport, providing medical, rescue and fire services, providing ground transportation, providing security, managing finances, leading the aviation community and marketing.
It is also the airport operator's responsibility to guarantee that the Airport Security Coordinator is the main contact for activities and communications that relate to security issues with the TSA. An ASC may also be available to TSA 24/7. The ASC is essentially in charge of coordinating security within the airport and working with the federally assigned security team that also oversees security within its jurisdiction. This includes reviewing all security measures on a routine basis as well as making sure that all elements of security are within compliance. ASC also must review backgrounds of all employees and verify criminal history checks so as to filter out any unwanted persons who might jeopardize the safety and security of the airport while employed on the premises.
ASCs can only be appointed by the airport operator if they have already passed the required training program and received the necessary documentation that qualifies them for the position.
Thus, the airport coordinator and the ASC work together to provide services to the aviation industry as a whole and to guarantee that the airport is maintained and overseen in a safe, secure manner that promotes the flow of business, the security of passengers and crew, and the prosperity of the business.
The most likely form of terrorist attack on U.S. aviation would likely be by way of remote hijacking. As Charlie Miller and Chris Valasek have demonstrated, transportation systems can be hacked and vehicles hijacked using computers, such as the kind Miller and Valsek used to remotely hijack a Jeep Cherokee that was being driven ten miles away (Greenberg, 2015). There are hypotheses that the airplanes that were used on 9/11 were remotely hijacked in order to ensure that the planes hit precisely in the destinations that they were intended to hit (Corbett, 2011). Miller and Valasek demonstrate that the tools to remotely hijack and control vehicles are available now, and drones are already remotely controlled planes that the military as well as other agencies use. Therefore, it is not far-fetched to consider that remotely control airplanes within the aviation industry would be a potential threat that terrorists could utilize in order to wreak havoc on the industry.
The potential for remote hijacking is there to be exploited as planes are already virtually built to fly themselves. If a system can be overridden and the mechanicals subverted so that the airplane is no longer in the power of the pilots, the ideal terrorist plot is underway: obviously the technology is available. It is only a matter of exploiting it.
Thus, to safeguard against remote hijacking, airport operators must consider how to ensure that planes' computers are adverse to such interference. The Aviation Transportation System Security Plan (2007) discusses what might happen if terrorists acquire MANPADS -- "stand-off" weapons that can be used to bring down airliners (p. 12). It also discusses the threat of cyber attack of remote facilities -- but it does not discuss or consider the threat of remote hijacking -- perhaps because of a failure of imagination on the part of planners. It is easier to imagine that airliners are safe because of TSA screenings in airports. The real threat is located in the technology itself, which can be controlled by external forces.
As Helton (2014) indicates, "the Boeing 777 along with other Boeing models can in fact be flown remotely through the use of independent embedded software and satellite communication ... This technology is known as the Boeing Honeywell 'Uninterruptible' Autopilot System." Helton argues that this sort of remote access was used to remotely hijack Flight MH370. Whether that is true or not is beside the point. It is a threat that should be considered and taken seriously by airport operators since the technology is available.
Likewise, the National Strategy for Aviation Security (2007) makes no mention of remote hijacking as a possibility or potential threat. It only discusses remote control in the context of "remote-controlled aircraft" (p. 10) which might be used along with "gliders, aerial-application aircraft, and UAVs ... as weapons or as a means to disseminate WMD" (p. 10). While the National Strategy for Aviation Security recommends that "adoption of this tactic deserves very close monitoring," it does not give any details about remote hijacking or how planes might be, like a Jeep Cherokee, accessible in ways unimagined (because not understood) by airport operators and security personnel. Hacking is a science that is beyond the grasp and reach of most ordinary civilians -- yet that does not mean that possibilities for remote hijacking do not exist. They surely do -- and if terrorists are active in the hacking science (why would they not be when there are groups like Anonymous who devote their whole enterprise to hacking into other systems and wreaking havoc) then it is a safe bet that this situation might be readily exploited in the near future.
Thus, I feel that this is the most likely form of terrorist attack on U.S. aviation because it is a very stealthy way of attack and from the plans of the National Strategy for Aviation Security it does not appear that many people in the security apparatus have given it genuine consideration. It presents itself as a hole or chink in the armor that terrorists might readily exploit. It also appears that terrorists like ISIS have sufficient wealth and know-how to create professional looking videos and magazine journals depicting their crimes and ideologies. Plus, they appear to have military-like training and skills. So it is likely that they also have electronics and technology training that they could use the same way that Anonymous uses its skills to hack into networks and steal data.
Indeed, the U.S. government has already seen its systems hacked in 2015 and the social security numbers of more than 20 million people stolen (Davis, 2015). If this can happen already and the government's own networks are not protected why should anyone be so naive as to think that airliners are not vulnerable to the same sort of hacking that was used to take command of a Jeep Cherokee being driven miles from where the hackers were conducting their hack?
The answer is that no one should be so naive. If hacking is already happening and vulnerabilities are already being exposed and theories have long been put forward that remote hijacking has already been utilized by terrorists (in the 9/11 hijackings for example: it was common knowledge that the alleged hijackers were not good pilots and could barely manage a Sesna let alone a much larger airliner), it is reasonable to suspect that this is not only a likely scenario, but indeed the most likely scenario to be on guard against.
In conclusion, remote hijacking is a reality. Drones are already utilizing remote control technology. If planes can be controlled remotely, as Helton (2014) has indicated, it is not outrageous to assume that terrorists can learn how to utilize this technology. It does not require subverting the TSA screening apparatus. It does not require a physical presence. It is most likely the simplest form of terrorism because it is based on cyber execution rather than in-the-field execution. Therefore, it is what I feel would be the most likely form of terrorist attack on the U.S. aviation industry and one that should be guarded against.
Corbett, J. (2011). 9/11: A Conspiracy Theory. Corbett Report. Retrieved from https://www.corbettreport.com/911-a-conspiracy-theory/
Davis, J. (2015). Hacking of government computers exposed 21.5 million people. The New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2015/07/10/us/office-of-personnel-management-hackers-got-data-of-millions.html
Greenbert, A. (2015). Hackers Remotely Kill a Jeep on the Highway -- With Me In It.
Wired. Retrieved from http://www.wired.com/2015/07/hackers-remotely-kill-jeep-highway/
Helton, S. (2014). Flight Control: Boeing's 'Uninterruptible Autopilot System,' Drones
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