Air traffic control entity plans massive cyber security upgrade

Samuel Mungadze
By Samuel Mungadze
Johannesburg, 18 Nov 2020

Air Traffic and Navigation Services (ATNS) has planned a massive cyber security upgrade in response to growing global cyber threats targeting different sectors, including air traffic.

ATNS, whose air traffic services cover over 22 million square kilometres of airspace, which equates to 6% of the global airspace, says the aviation sector is not immune to the cyber security risks and it will be ramping up its systems to counter the threats.

The government-controlled ATNS provides air traffic control services, aeronautical information used for all flight planning purposes, as well as search and rescue coordination activities and the maintenance of a reliable navigation infrastructure.

In its 2020 integrated report, ATNS says it will be fast-tracking the appointment of critical resources to capacitate the cyber security function, review, update and implement a clear cyber security strategy and plan.

“Our approach to cyber security must fundamentally change to protect our business and the modernised, pervasively connected landscape we operate in. We have crafted a cyber security roadmap that is all-encompassing to address information security holistically,” says CEO Dumisani Sangweni.

“A robust approach, such as the adopted NIST (National Institute of Standards and Technology) cyber security framework, will provide a holistic view of ATNS’s cyber security posture. An initial enterprise-wide cyber security risk assessment to baseline our cyber security maturity is planned to identify required interventions to improve the cyber resilience of the organisation over the next five years.”

The announcement comes on the back of a recent spike in cyber attacks in SA, with analysts warning that, in some cases, this is a direct result of inadequate investment in cyber security.

The world, including SA, has witnessed revved-up cyber attacks in the wake of the disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Among the local companies that suffered attacks is the JSE-listed Stefanutti Stocks, which had to shut down all IT systems in order to remediate.

In July, Lombard Insurance had a data breach incident, which was reported to the Information Regulator and law enforcement.

Before the Lombard incident, credit bureau Experian experienced a breach of data which exposed some personal information of as many as 24 million South Africans and 793 749 business entities to a suspected fraudster.

ATNS says as new digital technologies are reshaping the value proposition of air traffic management services and how these are provided to customers, the negative side of it is that cyber crime has increased dramatically and more investments are a must.

It says cyber crime remains a global and relentless threat to organisations across many industries.

“These attacks are usually aimed at accessing, changing or destroying sensitive information, extorting money from users or interrupting normal business processes.”

Furthermore, ATNS says, unsurprisingly, its IT strategy and related roadmap feature high among strategic initiatives, which seek to continually improve business modernisation and digitisation.

“The digitisation of the broader aviation sector includes embracing and leveraging mobile technology, robotics, biometrics, and advanced analytics incorporating the phenomena of big data, machine learning and artificial intelligence. Digital transformation is key in both optimising legacy IT infrastructure and in pursuing new revenue channels and opportunities.”

The state-owned entity says the global pandemic has provided one of the most powerful illustrations of the importance of organisational agility and the undeniable role that technology plays in enabling such agility in the digital economy.

“The future sustainability of ATNS, just like for many other organisations, is heavily dependent on the rapid development of digital capabilities that enable innovation, speed-to-market and cost-efficiency.”

Additionally, ATNS says it is developing an IT strategic roadmap to not only bolster existing fundamental IT capabilities, but to invest in new skills and technologies in specialised domains that will enable full participation in the digital economy within aviation.

“The post-pandemic, new normal demands accelerated implementation of technologies to take advantage of IOT, AI and other 4IR phenomena, while maintaining robust information technology governance.”