Cyberterrorism: Combating the Aviation Industry's Vulnerability to Cyberattack

By Schmidt, Andrew V. | Suffolk Transnational Law Review, Winter 2016 | Go to article overview

Cyberterrorism: Combating the Aviation Industry's Vulnerability to Cyberattack


Schmidt, Andrew V., Suffolk Transnational Law Review


I. INTRODUCTION

"Warfare has always been an evolving concept." (1) Warfare continues to mold the international community, yet the leading forces behind this constantly evolving concept do not solely include "economic, social, or moral" implications; rather, the strongest force is the advancement of wartime technology. (2) For generations, state and non-state actors have researched and tested technological vulnerabilities either to counter or exploit weaknesses. (3) Today, our generation faces the malicious intent of international state and non-state actors that are willing to exploit advancing computer technologies. (4) President Barack Obama has emphasized that state and non-state actors are capable of compromising aviation security: "We know hackers steal people's identities and infiltrate private e-mail. ... Now our enemies are also seeking the ability to sabotage ... our air traffic control systems." (5)

This Note examines the threat that the international aviation community faces, concludes that a comprehensive legal framework directing attention to the aviation industry is necessary, and offers suggestions to prevent a "cyber Pearl Harbor" or another similar-to (9) / (11) terrorist event. (6) Part II highlights data security protection and cyberwarfare threats that have triggered critical concern for various industries, including business, government, and transportation; moreover, Part II discusses the emergence of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) and its role in the international community. (7) Part III evaluates aviation vulnerabilities, focusing on the unique and highly complex system encompassing the aircraft, air traffic management (ATM), and ground or satellite stations that feed data through this cycle; additionally, Part III highlights the strong influence that the United States' Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has on the international aviation community. (8) Part IV argues that substantive cybersecurity measures must be implemented to counter the aviation network's vulnerabilities and to thwart state and non-state actors intending to disrupt global aviation security. (9) Part IV further provides that the ICAO's leadership is pivotal in implementing a cybersecurity taskforce to enhance international security, provide strategic relations, and offer recommendations to fight in the twenty-first century's cyberwarfare. (10) Finally, Part V emphasizes the necessity of a cybersecurity taskforce as innovative technologies are introduced into the aviation community, thereby increasing the risk of cyberattack. (11)

II. HISTORY

A. The Cyberthreat to Various Industries

1. Background on Cybercrime

A challenge exists in developing an appropriate lexicon for cyberterrorism, because a universal definition has not yet been adopted. (12) The term "terrorist" is used to identify "revolutionaries who seek to use terror systematically to further their views or to govern a particular area." (13) Terrorists have evolved with the advancement of technology to adapt to cyberterrorism-a distinct type of terrorism that involves an immediate threat because of the international community's dependence on technology; although cyberterrorism might not be recognized to threaten our physical state, it can wreak havoc and chaos in various industries. (14) The Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) has defined "cyberterrorism" as "the use of computer network tools to shut down critical national infrastructures ... or to coerce or intimidate a government or civilian population." (15) Another interpretation of cyberterrorism involves the utilization of computers to cause significant bodily harm or death, or to incapacitate critical infrastructure that may jeopardize human lives. (16)

After 9/11, security experts and politicians have warned about the threat that cyberterrorists could "hack[ ] into government and private computer systems [to] crippl[e] the military, financial, and service sectors of advanced economies. …

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