- - Wednesday, November 18, 2020

Each week brings new revelations of cyber hacks and digital attacks. Unfortunately, no industry appears immune. From health care networks to air traffic control systems, our nation regularly defends its citizens’ sensitive information. However, as cyberattacks grow more sophisticated, it is vital our nation’s cybersecurity infrastructure modernizes to maintain our security.

Cyberattacks are growing across the spectrum. For example, while our health care system scrambles to address the raging COVID-19 pandemic, Russian hackers are ramping up attacks on American hospitals, clinics and medical complexes. In an already vulnerable situation, frontline workers are now facing data-hostage scenarios that threaten to take their facilities offline if they refuse to give multimillion-dollar random payments.

In another instance, a team of hackers successfully attempted to sabotage a vital flight system for a U.S. military fighter jet. At a time when businesses and American families are trying to recover from the grips of COVID-19, letting our technology infrastructure go to the wayside only puts our country at further risk.

Additionally, with teleworking becoming more increasingly popular across industries, as Americans wait for a vaccine, more businesses are adopting cloud migration for their day-to-day operations. According to a study conducted by LogicMonitor, 66% of IT professionals note their biggest concern with migrating to the cloud is security. With phishing attempts and malware attacks nearly doubling for teleworkers, their concern is more than valid. Less physical control over information increases vulnerability to foreign interference, and we must ensure our systems can protect against this.

U.S. airports are particularly vulnerable to bad actors, as they are a rich environment of both professional and personal information. Airline companies are also attractive targets for cybercriminals because of their massive dependence on computer networks. Between 2015 and 2017, the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) found 34 IT outages that crippled airlines and led to grounded, delayed or cancelled flights. Not only is this detrimental to the airline companies that are losing revenue, but it is a headache to consumers, too. Even more frustrating is that these outages are preventable.

The Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) understands it needs to make cybersecurity improvements, as admitted in a recent GAO report. However, in order to make these improvements the FAA must have the proper infrastructure to support cyber-hardened modernization. The FAA is rightfully considering a shift from our nearly 20-year old FAA Telecommunications Infrastructure (FTI) program to the FAA Enterprise Network Services (FENS) program.

While the FAA fields the FENS program, it is critical that it is flexible and cost-efficient to best serve our nation’s needs. Integrating to this newer system will allow our nation to keep pace with the rapidly changing technology environment and keep Americans’ data secure.

Timing is everything when integrating our air traffic control systems. Though TSA scanned the most passengers in a single day since March on Oct. 18, 2020, airline traffic is still at record lows. More than 1,031,000 passengers were traveling on Oct. 18, but this is still a 60% decline from weekday traffic a year ago. It would be disastrous for air traffic control to go down for even a second, so decreased air traffic creates the perfect opportunity for the FAA to make this necessary upgrade.

Bad actors and nation-states have proven time and time again their interest in harming Americans through our skies, whether interfering with our election process or stealing consumer data. It’s time that the FAA recognize these looming threats and implement a program that is capable of defending against malicious cyberattacks, while maintaining cost efficiency and flexibility. American consumers and patients deserve better and, quite frankly, it is irresponsible to ignore these threats as our nation continues its ongoing recovery. 

• Gerard Scimeca is a lawyer and co-founder of Consumer Action for a Strong Economy (CASE).

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