Thales Blog

Ready for Take-off: Rising Above Airport Cybersecurity Challenges

November 16, 2023

Paige Elliott Paige Elliott | Product Marketing Manager, B2E Offers More About This Author >

Aviation is a fast-paced world, with airports around the globe serving billions of passengers annually. These bustling hubs require robust security systems to ensure the safety of passengers, staff, and infrastructure. The entire passenger process, from check-in to boarding, involves multiple stakeholders, including government regulators, airport management, airline personnel, and on-premise security teams, working together to maintain a robust and secure environment.

Traditionally, airport security focused on physical access and the perimeter; however, in the years since 9/11, the digital footprint of the vast interconnected systems contains valuable assets that must be protected. To manage the risk of potential insider and outsider threats while ensuring operational efficiency, airport authorities must accurately credential each employee in line with federal and airport-specific regulations; therefore, identity and access management play a crucial role.

Challenges of identity management for airports

Managing the operational complexity with the ever-present threat of security breaches is no small task for airports. Many airports today are engaged in multiple and large-scale digital transformation efforts, such as moving IT data to the cloud, sharing real-time flight and ground status with airport workers, and even implementing a BYOD (bring-your-own-device) policy for employees.

Effectively managing all types of workforce credentials involves numerous workflows, which, when processed manually, can be time-consuming and introduce an element of human error. In addition, airports face increasing pressure to comply with internal and external regulatory standards designed to improve security.

Ensuring security

It’s first important to distinguish between the security needs of airports versus airlines. Airports are high-risk locations and more vulnerable to cyber-attacks than airlines. Therefore, paying due diligence for all security decisions is essential. Regarding identity and access management, airports must have a clear insight into who is doing what within their physical space and the digital environment. A robust identity management solution enables airports to detect any unexpected behaviors among their customers so that they can identify and remediate potential threats.

Maintaining compliance

Airports face increased pressure to comply with an increased patchwork of government and airport-specific regulations to ensure the security and privacy of their staff and passengers. ICAO, IATA, and EASA have all published comprehensive, mandatory cybersecurity guidelines. In the US, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) issued new cybersecurity requirements as an amendment to the security programs for airport and aircraft operators.

Overcoming complex operational workflows

When granting or revoking access, airports often have several different identity lifecycle workflows to use, depending on the access journeys of each individual. This is because of the diversity of personnel working within the airport environment. These operational workflows include managing events across the identity lifecycle, access reviews to maintain regulatory compliance, background checks by government officials, and ad-hoc temporary access requests. Manually addressing each of these intensive steps is exceptionally cumbersome and error-prone.

Data sprawl

Airports handle the identity records of a highly diverse population of employees, including hospitality, retail, security, and maintenance staff. Also, on average, airports can process up to seven pieces of personal data for every passenger. Identity records are often stored across different systems based on the type of identity and operational workflows. This makes it particularly difficult to keep all associated systems synchronized and updated with status changes.

Integrating physical infrastructures with digital technologies

With the increased digitization of systems and procedures and the migration of apps and data to the cloud, successfully integrating physical infrastructures with digital systems is also challenging. Constraints such as system limitations and restricted mobile use policies make the harmonization of identity management and access security difficult. For example, implementing multifactor authentication (MFA) through mobile authenticator apps is impossible in airport areas where smartphones are prohibited.

How a centralized IAM helps

Airports can manage the lifecycle of identities relating to physical access, ultimately mitigating the challenge of identity verification and access control through centralization and rule-based conformance. With a centralized IAM solution, airports can harmonize identity management across the ecosystem. And, since many employees don’t have access to workstations during their shifts, an IAM solution can include a BYOD policy, using adaptive multifactor authentication to protect corporate data and the multiple apps employees use daily. This helps administrators understand and identify which applications may need MFA protection. For example, an aircraft tracking app using publicly accessible flight information doesn’t need the same security protocol as an accounts payable app. With this flexibility, employees can get the information that they need when they need it without friction.

Implementing a robust IAM solution enables airports to experience the following benefits:

  • Centralize the management of physical identities.
  • Integrate separate siloed systems to limit data sprawl.
  • Support effective, without security and operational risks, airport scaling.
  • Increase efficiency by automating complex, manual operational workflows and processes.
  • Enforce, sustain, and prove compliance with increasing regulatory and cyber insurance requirements.
  • Streamline time-consuming or inefficient processes like issuing badges, employee onboarding and offboarding, assigning new job roles, and granting access privileges across numerous access control systems.

IAM aims to connect the existing identity systems to synchronize them while reducing cost and airport security risks. The more complications in a system, the harder it is to monitor, understand, and respond to issues like abnormal behavior or security incidents.

IAM enables airports to securely manage and track the interactions of their diverse employees with their systems, provide a seamless user authentication journey, and protect against unauthorized access and identity fraud. IAM solutions such as Thales SafeNet Trusted Access can meet the technical, operational, and security requirements. They can enhance airport identity and access management, eliminating the need to choose between usability, efficiency, and security. Now, airports can have it all: simplify processes, boost overall efficiency, lower costs, meet regulatory requirements, and accentuate higher airport security.