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The prices of air travel have moved closer to the levels of disposable incomes of people, which has called for a change in airport technology to accommodate the escalating number of travelers. Airport operations and business models have undergone extensive evolution in the past decade to accommodate the proliferation of the global aviation sector.
The Internet of Things (IoT) has reached almost every aspect of our modern life. Regulatory reforms in the new air traveling era has given rise to dramatic traffic growth, diversity, and choice for airline passengers. The applications of IoT have been realized both in and out of our homes. It makes sense that we need it when we travel, too.
Our increasing dependency on the internet and advanced electronic appliances has led airports to believe that it is vital to provide visitors with the same kind of services even when they fly. Moreover, it is not enough that these services are provided at the airports, it is also necessary for these services to cater to customer requirements.
The European Union Agency for Cybersecurity (ENISA) has defined smart airports as ‘those airports that use networked, data-driven response capabilities that not only provide travelers a better and seamless travel experience but also aims to guarantee higher levels of security to ensure the safety of passengers and operators.’ These airports also have in place smart components to offer travelers a wide range of services, including automated check-in, flight booking, baggage and document checking, and wayfinding services for automation of border control and security checks.
According to a recent study by Reports and Data, the smart airport market is estimated to reach the valuation of USD 28 Billion by the year 2026. The Changi Airport in Singapore, with a rooftop swimming pool, sunflower and orchid garden, and a free 24-hour cinema, is trying to adhere to the trend of making airports more traveler-friendly and even goes beyond that to give the travelers the ‘holiday feel’ even at the airport.
Smart airport solutions that are being implemented by airports globally include beacon technology, baggage and check-in management, smart gates, mobile devices that help navigate the airport, facial recognition systems, freight operations information systems, air traffic control, ticketing and information systems, IP-based security monitoring, communications, and airways analytics.
Smart airports are an essential building block for building future smart cities and are more a consumer-oriented decision than a way for advancing airport technology to make it more efficient. Airports employ better technology to provide travelers with facilities to offer them high tech services at the airport, similar to the ones they have access to in their own homes. Not just processes, but even electronic devices have been placed on the IoT radar of airports.
To improve the airport experience of travelers, airports have installed smart gates, offering indoor airport navigation, and using Bluetooth beacons technology for retail operations. Other techniques employed at smart airports include security screening, crowd management, and baggage handling. However, with the increasing virtualization of vital data, it makes the data even more susceptible to criminal activities. Even though the internet has massively improved our lives, the scope of crimes that can be committed in the space has also widened concomitantly.
Cybersecurity threats are the most notable disadvantage associated with the advent and expansion of the internet. Airports have also been on the target of cybercrimes, now more than ever, for their increasing reliance on internet connectivity. The main reason for it being a hotbed for such activities is the high presence of internet and computer systems in the operations at the airport.
The more internet reliance a device has, the more it becomes susceptible to tampering. Manipulation of data at central reservation systems and unauthorized access to stored sensor data and administration IT systems are some of the cybersecurity threats that loom at airports. Unauthorized modification of software and hardware leading to data loss or corruption can influence the airport’s self-serving systems such as automatic check-in machines, smart building management mechanisms, and passport control gates.
Malware can dampen common information systems and can potentially compromise servers, smart electronics such as passenger and staff portable devices, and other smart components such as the supervisory control and data acquisition system at the airport. Smart components are any networked ICT system with data processing capabilities such as aggregating simple data, activating automated response, and drawing insights to support human decisions. These components can significantly improve user experience, but can also create new attack vectors and give airport assets a wider surface for attacks.
Gaining unauthorized access to these systems could put them in danger and result in malicious activities with severe outcomes, physical safety breaches, and security breaches. These activities can have a grave impact on the infrastructure, as the software can abuse the authority it gains over the computer it relies on to function.
Any device or system at the airport is a potential target for such cyber-attacks due to various reasons, including third party security issues on remote sensors and controls as well as smart assets. A smart airport system that has a permeable attack surface, with lax security and the system is not running with the latest security patches.
Some technologies like WiFi are considered a necessity by travelers, which makes it clear why airports offer high-speed connectivity. It is not just important to provide the service, but it is equally essential to provide excellent service. People have easy access to voice a bad review, especially on a portal they know will affect the reputation of the airport, and this is the reason why these customer-centric facilities are intensifying the competition of smart airports.
The increasing dependence of airports on the internet has left it exposed to various cybersecurity dangers of unauthorized access, data loss, and misuse. Nonetheless, the adoption of smart technologies at airports has significantly enhanced the functioning of airports. However, the reception of such services depends on the target audience. In more developed economies, adopting and implementing such technologies is more affordable than in developing or under-developed countries.
Similarly, the population of a developed country is more accepting and adjusted to using such technology that those belonging to developing or under-developed nations. Nonetheless, with the technological evolution, we have witnessed in the past two decades has made us believe that we are ready for this transition.