Terrorist attacks at airports are the stuff of nightmares. Fortunately, airports have fortifications that prevent a physical attack, at least to a large extent. But what would happen if terrorists hacked into airport computer systems, and took over baggage-screening, check-in, and air traffic control?
To ensure that threats and attacks from terrorists do not wreak havoc, a two-day Global Aviation Security Lab, attended by airport personnel from Morocco, Abu Dhabi, Kenya, Singapore, Croatia, Australia and India, was held a the Kolkata airport.
The event covered topics such as air traffic control, and check-in or baggage check systems being hacked.
Pierre Coutu, the Programme Executive at the Airport Management Professional Accreditation Programme, said to the Telegraph, “A cyber attack can bring an airport to a grinding halt. You cannot check-in, and the ATC won’t work”.
The first safety lab was held in Munich in 2015, and Kolkata was chosen for the second because it is one of the few large airports still depending on manual processes, at least in the domestic terminal, unlike most Indian airports.
Web check-in seems convenient, but it still requires a flier to go and deposit registered baggage in a counter, unlike other countries, where self-check-in without any manual intervention is normal.
According to an aviation security expert, a hacked airline check-in system will enable unauthorised persons to sneak banned items onto flights, without the scanner detecting them. If terrorists hack the Air Traffic Control system, it would be disastrous.
The accreditation programme, devised by the Airport Council and International Civil Aviation Organisation, aims to increase professional knowledge and capabilities of airport personnel globally. Coutu sums it up by saying, “Since most operations are now computer-based, the exercise was conducted to find ways to prevent cyber attacks.”