Airlines beef up IT security

Johannesburg, 13 Mar 2008

Airlines are taking an even closer look at ICT security, as the migration to IP-enabled networks continues and more passengers switch to self-service. This requires the aviation industry to roll-out open systems that are more susceptible to security breaches.

The second annual Global Airline IT Security Survey, which polled 152 airlines in late 2007, found aviators are responding to the challenge by creating dedicated security management teams. The survey, conducted by aviation industry IT provider SITA, found 63% of the respondent airlines now had such teams, up from 55% the year before.

There is also a significant shift to using the specialist services of third parties, with outsourcing as a priority, rising from 22%, in 2006, to 36% of respondents, in 2007, SITA says.

The use of open systems to boost self-service is a trend that is set to continue, says Mark Prince, head of consulting for security, voice and convergence at SITA. Over half of the airlines surveyed offer check-in over the Web and 89% expect to offer it within the next two years.

By then, 52% of airlines are planning to offer self-boarding and 76% plan to implement mobile phone check-in. Each of these services adds new layers to the physical and IT security equation, increases security risks, and poses the challenge to deliver secure services in a fast and efficient manner.

"Clearly, airlines are taking significant steps to respond to network-related security threats as demonstrated by the rise in dedicated security teams and outsourcing to trusted third parties," Prince says.

"We have observed the trend to outsource as airlines recognise the specialised focus that is required in this area. We anticipate further outsourcing in 2008 as the pressures of system consolidation and integration from the adoption of new technology, and increasing passenger numbers, continue to rise," he adds.

Though the overall level of network security-related pressure has increased, there are changes in specific areas over the past year. "Since last year`s report, the priority placed on both e-ticketing and IP migration has reduced somewhat, down from 63% and 49%, to 56% and 44%, respectively, suggesting that these elements of air transport industry technology strategy are starting to mature," Prince adds.

The survey also examined the portion of IT budgets absorbed by security. Results show that, although security spending continues to rise, it is at a reduced rate. Last year`s survey predicted budget increases of an average of 4.5%, but the actual spend for 2007 was 4.2%. For 2008, an average increase of 4% is predicted.

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