• Better detection of diseases, fraudulent art, chemical weapons, and more

    From airport security detecting explosives to art historians authenticating paintings, society’s thirst for powerful sensors is growing. Given that, few sensing techniques can match the buzz created by surface-enhanced Raman spectroscopy (SERS). Discovered in the 1970s, SERS is a sensing technique prized for its ability to identify chemical and biological molecules in a wide range of fields. It has been commercialized, but not widely, because the materials required to perform the sensing are consumed upon use, relatively expensive and complicated to fabricate. That may soon change.

  • How a hacker could hijack a plane from their seat

    Reports that a cybersecurity expert successfully hacked into an airplane’s control system from a passenger seat raises many worrying questions for the airline industry. It was once believed that the cockpit network that allows the pilot to control the plane was fully insulated and separate from the passenger network running the in-flight entertainment system. This should make it impossible for a hacker in a passenger seat to interfere with the course of the flight. But the unfolding story of this hacker’s achievement, which has prompted further investigation by authorities and rebuttals from plane manufacturers, means that this assumption needs to be revisited.

  • Airlines ban shipments of lithium-ion batteries following cargo fires

    Rechargeable lithium-ion batteries may soon have to be imported by other means than air shipments after at least eighteen airlines have banned shipments of the product this year following devastating cargo fires such as the one that caused a United Parcel Service (UPS) freighter to crash near Dubai in 2010. Roughly 30 percent of the 5.5 billion cell batteries produced each year are shipped by plane.

  • New airport security technologies raise privacy concerns

    Researchers are developing surveillance technologies better to help airport security officials scan passengers and luggage for contraband and suspicious behavior. Privacy advocates say these expensive and ambitious projects, meant to increase public safety and ease air travel delays, risk intruding on passengers’ privacy.“What starts in the airport doesn’t stay there,” says a technology expert at the ACLU.

  • A very big concept lifts off

    In 2010, a group of defense contractors led by Northrop Grumman received a contract from the U.S. Department of Defense to create a so-called Long Endurance Multi-Intelligence Vehicle (LEMV) — a super-sized surveillance aircraft that had the capability of spending days in the air on a single mission. The first test flight of the Airlander took place in August 2012. In 2013, however, budget cuts led to the cancellation of the project, and U.K.-based Hybrid Air Vehicles (HAV), which was part of contractors group, bought the Airlander back from the DoD at effectively scrap value. So the Airlander came back to the United Kingdom, where it lives in a giant hangar in Cardington, Bedfordshire. It is there because it is the only place in the United Kingdom that can house it, having been built for airship manufacture in 1915. HAH has big plans for it.

  • Calls for rethinking cockpit door security policy

    Following the 9/11 attacks, the European Air Safety Agency(EASA) and the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration(FAA), in an effort to make hijackings more difficult, told commercial airlines to adopt systems which would prevent the takeover of passenger planes.News that co-pilot Andreas Lubitz of the Germanwings flight 4U95251 deliberately locked the flight captain out of the cockpit as part of what is now considered a murder-suicide case, has raised concerns over whether the post-9/11 cockpit door safety policy is too secure, posing a more serious threat to civil aviation than terrorism.

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  • Germanwings flight 4U9525: a victim of the deadlock between safety and security demands

    People often confuse “security” and “safety,” but conceptually, these terms are different from each other. Security offers protection from intentional attacks, while safety is to prevent from natural accidents. While some security incidents can be accidental, or made to look accidental, some element of usually malicious intent is involved. The trade-off in both security and safety risks in this context is hard because the probability of accidents can be modelled while human intention cannot. One could try to estimate the probability of someone having bad intentions, especially pilots, but in the end it’s not possible to square one with the other — it is to compare apples with oranges. The Germanwings flight 4U9525, in which the pilot was locked out of the cockpit, shows that we need to reassess the risks and arguments around safety and security in the context of aviation, and find ways of bringing together hardware, software, and the flight crew themselves — perhaps through health monitoring devices — in order to ensure that both these demands work together, and do not become a threat in themselves.

  • In-flight plane control systems vulnerable to remote hacking: Experts

    Flaws in in-flight entertainment (IFE) systems and satellite communications leave commercial, private, and military planes vulnerable to hacking, according to cybersecurity experts. “We can still take planes out of the sky thanks to the flaws in the in-flight entertainment systems,” says one expert. “Quite simply put, we can theorize on how to turn the engines off at 35,000 feet and not have any of those damn flashing lights go off in the cockpit.” Terrorist groups are believed to lack the expertise to bring down a plane remotely, but it is their limitations, not aviation safeguards, which are keeping planes from being hacked.

  • Airships offer a solution for aviation’s future challenges

    It is forecast that by 2020 the number of aircraft passengers will reach 400 million. The movement of freight by air is expected to increase by more than 340 percent over the next twenty years. During the same period congestion at many airports will squeeze out cargo operations because of economic and environmental reasons. Consequently, if market demand for air freight is to be met, either there will have to be significant investment in new airport infrastructure or alternative transport forms need to be considered. Researchers have completed a three year investigation into stratospheric passenger airships as part of a multi-national engineering project designed to provide a future sustainable air transport network. The researchers believe that airships offer a solution for future air transportation that is safe, efficient, cheap, and environmentally friendly.

  • FAA should address weaknesses in air traffic control systems: GAO

    The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has taken steps to protect its air traffic control systems from cyber-based and other threats, but significant security control weaknesses remain, threatening the agency’s ability to ensure the safe and uninterrupted operation of the national airspace system (NAS), the GAO says in a new report. The GAO report says that FAA also did not fully implement its agency-wide information security program.

  • Aviation industry under-prepared to deal with cyber risk: Expert

    The aviation industry is behind the curve in terms of its response and readiness to the insidious threat posed by cyber criminality whether from criminals, terrorists, nation states, or hackers, according to Peter Armstrong, head of Cyber Strategy for Willis Group Holdings, the global risk adviser, insurance and reinsurance broker. Armstrong explained that the aviation industry’s under-preparedness is noteworthy in a sector that abhors uncertainty and works tirelessly to eradicate it.

  • Lawmakers want more security features to be added to Visa Waiver Program

    The recent attacks in Paris have led U.S. lawmakers to propose restrictions on, or adding more security to, the U.S. Visa Waiver Program(VWP), which allows citizens from thirty-eight countries to travel to the United States for up to ninety days without obtaining a traditional visa. Concerns now revolve around the threat that some of the roughly 3,000 European nationals who have traveled to Syria to fight alongside Islamic extremist groups, and are now equipped with skills to launch an attack, may return to Europe and then book a flight to the United States to launch an attack.

  • EU Parliament considers reviving uniform air-passenger information legislation

    The European Parliament is considering reviving draft legislation which would force airline companies to give EU member governments a cohesive and uniform set of passenger information, following heightened security concerns in the wake of the 7 January Paris attacks. The legislation, first proposed in 2011, was rejected bu the EU Parliament in 2013.

  • Building better butt bombs: Al Qaeda’s instructions to followers

    Five years after using a “bum bomb” for the first time – on 28 August 2009, against the Saudi deputy interior minister – al Qaeda bomb makers are at it again. Having actively searched for new and better ways to take advantage of privacy (“don’t touch my junk”) considerations which govern airport security checks, one of the organization’s bomb makers goes public. The latest issue of Inspire, the organization’s English-language magazine, contains a detailed 22-page article on how to construct a butt bomb and conceal it in one’s anal cavity. The article alsoadvises would-be suicide bombers on where to sit on the airplane to ensure the most destruction, and also recommends using the hidden bomb for assassination attempts.

  • The science of airport bomb detection: chromatography

    As the holidays draw near, many of us will hop on a plane to visit friends and family — or just get away from it all. Some will be subjected to a swab at the airport to test clothes and baggage for explosives. So how does this process work? The answer is chromatography — a branch of separation chemistry — along with mass spectrometry. Although instrumental chromatography is a mature technology (the first instruments were produced just after WWII), new applications frequently pop up. Some are a matter of scale. Pharmaceutical companies that produce monoclonal antibodies (often used in cancer treatments) make use of capture chromatography to purify their products. On an industrial scale these can be tens of centimeters in diameter and meters in length (typical lab scale systems are a few millimeters diameter and 5-30cm long). Other uses can either be in a specific new application, such as detecting cocaine on bank notes using the gas chromatography systems often seen at airports as bomb and drug detectors.