Guidance Issued for Cyber Resilience as Airports Shut Down

Airports Council International (ACI) World has issued guidance on IT practices being implemented by airports around the globe in response to the unprecedented disruption and upheaval caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

In response to the rapid decline in traffic as a result of widespread travel restrictions and the health and safety implications of the spread of COVID-19, airports are ensuring the safety and health of all airport stakeholders by reducing onsite staff – including IT staff – to essential personnel only. They are adopting emergency HR measures and increasing the use of online collaborative tools and remote working to ensure business continuity.

These new working practices are not without challenges and risks and ACI’s Advisory Bulletin has therefore been issued to help airports with this transition.

“Airports are being forced to reconsider their normal business and operational processes and this advisory bulletin provides airports with a set of important key actions for addressing IT concerns during this pandemic,” ACI World Director General Angela Gittens said.

“A key aspect for airports, especially with larger numbers of staff accessing IT systems remotely, is the implementation of cyber resilience for business continuity.

“It is imperative for airports to have up-to-date cybersecurity policies and procedures which should be made available and apply to not only the IT and cybersecurity personnel, but the workforce in general.”

The bulletin guides airports as they seek to move staff to homeworking, adding that safe and secure connectivity may be offered via Virtual Private Networks (VPN), and cloud-based solutions which require only simple internet connections. This method does not connect the remote worker to a specific computer in the office but rather to the airport network and programs in general. 

“It is imperative that the airport VPN service is patched and up-to-date, and that the proper security measures are in place,” the bulletin states. “Whether the airport provides a laptop, allows the employee to take home a desktop computer, or encourages use of home devices, specific programs and applications that are critical to conduct business should be identified and made accessible. IT should then put into place the proper login and secure connectivity access, and data-saving capabilities.”

Along with cyber security measures, the bulletin provides guidance in building a strong collaborative team, ensuring effective and secure IT infrastructure for remote access and establishing a common information sharing approach. It also covers the deployment of innovative technologies and solutions for autonomous operations, noting that “this may be the time to consider solutions for truly autonomous, handsfree passenger self-processing throughout the journey”.

Airports are currently taking whatever measures are needed to ensure business continuity in the long term and while the bulletin also includes information on shutting-down systems, it also explores how airports will need to plan to bring them back up and restore them to full capacity.

“Airports are currently focused on ensuring business continuity, but they will hopefully soon be considering how to manage the business impact in preparation for recovery and to accelerate growth,” Angela Gittens said.

The guidance comes as several airports announce widespread flight cancellations severely curtailing everyday operations, and even closures. In the United States, airport operations were forced to pause after the Federal Aviation Administration announced that several air traffic controllers had tested positive for COVID-19. Chicago’s Midway, Las Vegas’ McCarran, Florida’s Fort Lauderdale, and New York’s JFK and LaGuardia were just some of the airports having to cease operations while ATC towers were deep cleaned. 

Elsewhere, Dubai Airports have closed to the traveling public as a preventive measure, and on March 31, British Airways announced it was closing its London-Gatwick Airport base indefinitely. Other airlines including Norwegian and easyJet have grounded almost all flights across their networks.

Read the advisory bulletin at ACI

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Kylie Bielby has more than 20 years' experience in reporting and editing a wide range of security topics, covering geopolitical and policy analysis to international and country-specific trends and events. Before joining GTSC's Homeland Security Today staff, she was an editor and contributor for Jane's, and a columnist and managing editor for security and counter-terror publications.

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