ASTM International, an organization that works with technical experts to integrate standards in various industries, is developing a standard to address communications security issues surrounding UAVs and potentially other types of aircraft. The project, which began in December 2022, involves ASTM’s unmanned aircraft systems committee, as well as a number of industry stakeholders.

According to ASTM member Drew Van Duren, the proposed standard “will identify and describe a tailorable approach to securing aircraft-to-anything (A2X) broadcast-type applications.” Van Duren stated that the work stems from the growth of the UAV industry and the increasingly critical need to improve the ways uncrewed aircraft communicate with each other and potentially ground devices.

We've arrived at a point in the aviation industry where a lot of systems are dependent on the assurance and the security of communications,” he stated. “Recently, the General Aviation Manufacturers Association published a white paper documenting the need for vehicle-to-vehicle aircraft communications link capability. The guidance we’re developing, along with other recent developments in the industry, show that this project is well timed.”

Among the major issues facing the UAV sector is ensuring the security of communications links for safety applications and maneuvers such as detect-and-avoid (DAA). Given the complexities of creating effective DAA systems with uncrewed systemsespecially in constrained radio spectrum—the need for clear, effective communications security approaches is clear. 

To address this issue, Van Duren said, “the proposed standard will describe the types of security controls available and the appropriate use of cryptographic, credential-based solutions for implementing those controls.” Moreover, he asserted, “the standard will also address the trade-space between various security options available and their impacts on messaging overhead, utilization of radio frequency spectrum, and demands imposed on trust management infrastructures.” 

Van Duren said that his group hopes to send a “first draft” of the standards to ATSM leadership this summer. Since starting regular meetings in January, he reported that the participants have “gone through a lot of successive steps in characterizing the types of applications and security overlays we want. We’ve had a lot of good input from different stakeholders, including cybersecurity experts.”

Everyone involved in the process, he said, understands the importance of creating industry standards. “There’s a lot of enthusiasm for what we’re doing,” he reported. “People in the industry see the problems we need to address, including enabling devices to be able to interact directly with each other in the airspace securely and with a high degree of assurance, and we are all committed to developing these standards.”