Aeronautics | 18. January 2022 | posted by Tim Stelkens-Kobsch

The SATIE project – greater security for airports

© whity
Credit: © whity
Airports are complex places, and that makes them vulnerable. In the SATIE project, leading EU partner organisations have joined forces to improve the resilience of European airports in the face of cyber and physical attacks.

As part of the Security of Air Transport Infrastructure of Europe (SATIE) project – a complex scenario at Zagreb Airport – one of the project partners demonstrated the potential effect of an extortion attack on an airport's Baggage Handling System (BHS). In the process, 'attackers' carried out virus attacks on the control system of the BHS live and on site. The airport staff were asked to detect and fend off these attacks during the demonstration. They were provided with the SATIE toolkit developed as part of the project. This recognises physical and cyber-attacks – or combinations of the two – and provides decision-making suggestions to clarify the situation.

The simulated attack on the BHS was just one of a total of five scenarios devised to test the new components of the SATIE toolkit as realistically as possible. Each scenario provides a step-by-step description of how a specific complex attack on an airport would be likely to proceed.##markend##

Credit: © Zagreb Airport
A look behind the scenes in a baggage handling facility

At Athens and Milan Malpensa airports – which are also SATIE project partners – the team demonstrated four other scenarios, which had also been devised, simulated and implemented during the project. They dealt with attacks on other important airport elements, such as passport and border controls, passenger screening, the display boards (and the passenger information system in general), the access control system and the airport announcement system.

SATIE – Security of Air Transport Infrastructure of Europe

Over the last few years, SATIE's European team has developed new approaches and thinking in relation to future 'Security Operations Centres' (SOCs), which are to form part of a comprehensive security policy for airports. Airports are large, highly complex and thus vulnerable places. Encompassing a number of disparate areas, they may be variously endangered by physical or digital (cyber) attacks. The need to guarantee the safety of people, infrastructure and processes is more pressing than ever in an increasingly digitalised world.

In addition to baggage handling, which is highly susceptible to the disruption of its operational processes, attacks may be caused by instigating a series of cascading and amplifying effects, triggering a domino effect. This can endanger the entire air traffic management system, jeopardising the physical and cyber security of air travellers or the sensitive and extensive databases on which a modern airport depends for smooth operations.

Credit: © Airbus CyberSecurity
The diagram outlines the various areas and entities at an airport that could be at risk of physical or digital attack

More about the SATIE project

Critical infrastructure such as airports are usually protected against individual physical or cyber threats, but not against complex attacks that combine both types. To change this, the experts involved in the SATIE project developed an interoperable toolkit that improves the response to such cyber-physical correlations and enhances forensic investigations and dynamic impact assessments at airports. Eighteen organisations from 10 countries teamed up as part of the European project, which was coordinated by the DLR Institute of Flight Guidance. With a shared awareness of the situation, airport security and airport management can work together more efficiently in crisis management. Emergency procedures can be initiated simultaneously via an alert system to plan airborne and land-side countermeasures, notify first responders, cybersecurity and maintenance teams, and enable security to be restored rapidly.

SATIE has taken a whole-system approach to preventing, detecting, responding to and mitigating airport threats while ensuring the protection of critical systems, sensitive data and passengers. Solutions have been integrated into a platform that simulates key parts of the cyber-physical systems at airports. The aim is to improve the cooperation of new systems with existing infrastructure and increase efficiency.

The technology was demonstrated at three different European airports (Zagreb, Milan Malpensa and Athens) to evaluate the solutions under operational conditions. The results will be shared with academics, standardisation bodies, safety experts and the air transport industry. SATIE is a recently completed EU project. It was funded by the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme.

More information about SATIE can be found in videos on YouTube.

Credit: © DLR
Example of some of the systems and services at an airport



About the author

Tim Stelkens-Kobsch interessiert sich schon seit seinen Schulzeiten für die Luftfahrt. Diese Begeisterung hat ihn zum Studium der Luft- und Raumfahrt an der Technischen Universität Braunschweig animiert, das er 2001 abgeschlossen hat. Am Institut für Flugführung der TU Braunschweig hat er dann bis 2007 gearbeitet. to authorpage