Timed with this year’s FAA Drone Safety Day, the Aeronautics Division of the Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT) held a live cybersecurity webinar on April 29. Aimed at drone pilots, as well as those in the government, non-profit, corporate, and recreational sectors who use uncrewed systems, the webinar looked at cybersecurity threats facing aviation and transportation and offered strategies for confronting risks.

According to MassDOT Aeronautics Administer Jeff DeCarlo, the webinar was created to address growing concerns around cybersecurity. “There are world-wide examples in the news about cybersecurity threats such as the use of drones in locations such as Ukraine and Gaza,” DeCarlo stated. “MassDOT Aeronautics acknowledges there will be cybersecurity threats in the future and that we must design robust security into our systems before it becomes a concern.”

Source: MassDOT

The webinar focused on three main topics. “First, we provided an overview of a methodology developed for the US Air Force to test military aircraft in contested cyberspace,” said DeCarlo. “Second, the webinar presented an update on recent developments in AI integration into aviation. Third, we addressed a combination of those two topics, sharing lessons from the world of machine learning and neural networks that may guide aviation cybersecurity.”

Led by former Air Force cybersecurity expert Noel Zamot, Senior Advisor to MassDOT Aeronautics and President of Atabey Group, the webinar explained the advantages of a “systems-focused” approach to cybersecurity. “This approach prioritizes the mission of the system in design and security considerations from the outset,” explained DeCarlo. “In simple terms: ‘If you are going to do it, you need to design and engineer for it.’” 

DeCarlo said that advanced planning is essential for drone operators facing the possibility of cybersecurity threats. “Cybersecurity threat scenarios in many cases can be predicted and planned for. Knowing what the scenarios are will help everyone in government determine how to find threats, neutralize, assess, and discover the origin of such an attack,” he said. “MassDOT Aeronautics would like to emphasis the importance of planning for eventualities and in collaborating with many government agencies and other partners.”

Looking ahead, DeCarlo said that MassDOT will continue to provide guidance and support around cybersecurity and uncrewed aviation. “The response from the AUVSI conference in San Diego and this aviation cybersecurity webinar has been enthusiastic,” he reported. “We are actively considering next steps to share some of our insights with the FAA, DoD, state and local governments, manufacturers, and others.”

Also, DeCarlo said, “We are involved in initial discussions on providing more cybersecurity content for our government, commercial, and research stakeholders. This is an emerging area, where we want to be at the forefront of collaboration with like-minded partners.”