The Aerospace Village is a diverse community of hackers, engineers, pilots and policy leaders from across both the public and private sectors.
The organization believes the flying public deserves safe, reliable, and trustworthy air travel, which is highly dependent on secure aviation and space operations. It seeks to build, inspire, and promote an inclusive community of next-generation aerospace cybersecurity expertise and leaders.
I Am The Cavalry spoke with the Aerospace Village team about their work.
Q: Can you describe what Aerospace Village is, and how it works?
A: The Aerospace Village is a diverse collection of volunteers from around the world in the private sector and in government, ranging from hackers to policy experts, former military to private pilots. Our focus is to increase collaboration across government, industry, and security research communities to increase the security of air and space operations. We bring these communities together by curating opportunities to meet and work with one another on complex yet critical issues that affect the flying public and users of this technology. Our members participate in technology councils with the private sector, engagements with government counterparts, STEM outreach events, and security-focused conferences.
We first began as the Aviation Village at DEF CON in 2019. We quickly realized the need to focus beyond just aviation to look at the entire aerospace sector. This ecosystem comprises passenger travel, air cargo, military, and general aviation, but also includes space, from satellites to the vast network of ground components that support those operations. We all depend on space communications in many facets of our daily lives.
Q: What are the greatest current security threats to air travel? Why should people care about them?
A: The threats primarily emerge due to the complexity created by highly connected systems. Government and industry struggle to fully understand the vulnerabilities that emerge as these systems are integrated and brought online. While we might understand a certain system as it sits by itself on a test bench, there are still many unknowns when it comes to the interactions that occur and weaknesses that can develop from the continually increasing connectedness of ground, air, and space systems.
Q: How does connected technology make planes a target for malicious actors?
A: Planes are just one component of the aerospace ecosystem, and we know from published research that vulnerabilities can exist. Everyone involved in the safety and security of air operations is working to determine what vulnerabilities exist and how best to mitigate them, particularly in highly connected environments. A key element to keep in mind is not the movie version of a nefarious hacker who takes over an aircraft’s controls. There are simple communications or navigation interruptions that could induce uncertainty and friction. When pilots are dealing with poor weather conditions, an aircraft emergency, or worse yet, both at the same time, those “simple” interruptions have a higher potential to impact safe operations.
Q: What are the benefits of the interactive, hands-on learning environment of the Village?
A: Our mission at the Aerospace Village is to build, inspire, and promote an inclusive community of next-generation aerospace cybersecurity expertise and leaders. It is not easy to get access to the technical components used on expensive satellites and aircraft. By collaborating with government and industry, we have been able to create opportunities for experts to talk about their work, teaching others, often using representative components that illustrate the key concepts of those normally inaccessible systems.
Q: Why does the cyber community enjoy working in simulated hacking scenarios?
A: From my perspective, the cyber community enjoys working in any type of hacking scenario. Of course, the most realistic scenarios are ones where security researchers can access actual components connected in the same way they are used in the real world. Since that is not always practical, simulating the equipment and/or their connections is often a necessary fallback option.
The enjoyment security researchers find in this work comes from their generally inquisitive nature, which drives them to tinker, to discover, to dig into gear, and to find out how it works. All the better if along the way they find a flaw that enables them to create a solution to fix it.
Q: How will the public benefit from the insights you get from these exercises?
A: We share a common desire to preserve the public’s trust in air and space operations. The public benefits from greater collaboration because security and safety are improved when flaws, vulnerabilities, and “features” of technology are fixed. Increased understanding across very different government, industry, and security research groups lead to collaboration that is more effective.