In-flight connectivity: 5 critical concerns for airline operators

With increasing demand for in-flight connectivity, the challenge of breach is higher in air. Here is what the service providers will have to keep in mind.

According to a survey Inmarsat did in May last year, about 86 percent of Indian air travelers would prefer to fly with a carrier that offers Internet connectivity. 60 percent of passengers believe that inflight Wi-Fi is a necessity not a luxury and 45 percent people are ready to pay for inflight Wi-Fi rather than use free on-board entertainment.

The Department of Telecommunications (DoT), has presented a proposal to introduce In-Flight Connectivity (IFC) for voice, data and video services over Indian airspace for domestic, international and overflying flights in Indian airspace. The DoT have sought the recommendations of TRAI on licensing terms and conditions for provision of IFC for voice, data and video services. The systems on these e-enabled aircrafts transmit data from satellite or ground-based communication networks.

In-flight connectivity will make the journey more efficient and passenger-friendly. However, there are certain security challenges to be addressed once your phone or a device is connected to a network. The biggest concern is the higher chances of hack, and attack on insecure data and systems.

Here are some key points to be noted for the implementation of in-flight connectivity:

A separate network for passengers?

Communication will play an important role. The network service providers will have to provide a separate network for the passenger devices. The use of a common network for the aircraft and the passengers could pose a bigger risk, as the aircraft information system includes flight controls, flight management, and navigation systems. Also, the current aircraft network helps the crew on board to have ground based communications and certain requirements. Giving a common network for both of the services (for passenger and aircraft) could pose a risk of unsuspicious activity, and any passenger could hack the aircraft controls.

Staying cost-effective

It will be interesting to see how the government is going to solve the increase in demand for value added services. It will be challenging to provide data services and proper bandwidth connectivity without compromising aircraft security and safety. And to provide proper safety, the cost increases. Aircraft communication systems, however will be a separate network. But to provide the value added service, this gap needs to be filled, with proper security and safety. Amid multiple satellites, systems and conflicting claims, airline operators will have a hard time deciding which connectivity system to adopt.

Keeping updated on the latest technology

The most important point is to check what are the devices connected in air, and what all devices pose a challenge of getting hacked in air. All those on-board devices--the aircraft communication systems, passenger display systems and all other devices--which come in contact with any device in the air or on ground has to be monitored before making an aircraft e-enabled. Identifying such devices and creating a security perimeter will help to create a secure network. Also the network service providers will have to be updated as there are new technologies being inducted every other day. The concerned team will have to constantly monitor all developments in the world of technology. Satellites deliver communication beams by addressing smaller geographic regions. There are technological challenges in delivering those beams seamlessly to aircrafts flying across large distances at high speeds. Techniques like compression, buffering and acceleration will have to be employed depending on the satellites and communication systems one choose to adopt.

In-house network

The on-board Internet traffic must be routed to a Satellite Gateway on Indian soil. The deployment of a gateway in India provides an effective mechanism to lawfully intercept and monitor the in-cabin internet traffic while the aircraft is in Indian airspace.

Continuous testing

Once the plan is made, there should be many rounds of testing as to check the vulnerabilities of the system. Testing should cover many aspects of security vulnerabilities such as confidentiality, authentication, and authorization. The testing has to be done, after the implementation of the services also, to keep a track on the current situations and also keeping an eye in emerging threats.