Airbus Suppliers Targeted In Multiple Cyber-Attacks

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Suppliers for aircraft manufacturer Airbus have reportedly been targetted by suspected Chinese hackers, in search of commercial secrets

European aerospace and defence giant Airbus has been hit by series of cyber attacks on its suppliers’ computer networks.

Security sources told AFP, that the hackers targetted Airbus suppliers in a search for commercial secrets, and they believe there is a Chinese link to these attacks.

Two security sources investigating the attacks told AFP that there have been four major attacks on Airbus suppliers in the last 12 months.

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Airbus attacks

Airbus is an attractive target due to its use of cutting-edge technology in its plane designs, as well as the fact that it is also a military supplier.

Airbus itself recognises it is a target. In 2017, Ian Goslin, head of UK cyber security at Airbus told Silicon UK how the firm protects its critical infrastructure and how it ensures it is ready to counter cyber threats.

According to AFP, in January this year Airbus admitted a security incident that “resulted in unauthorised access to data.”

However people apparently with knowledge of the attacks outlined a concerted and far bigger operation over the last year.

It seems that British engine-maker Rolls-Royce and the French technology consultancy and supplier Expleo were targetted by hackers.

Two other French contractors working for Airbus that AFP was unable to identify, were also reportedly attacked.

The attack against Expleo was discovered at the end of 2018, but the group’s system had reportedly been compromised long before, one of the sources told AFP on condition of anonymity.

“It was very sophisticated and targeted the VPN which connected the company to Airbus,” the source said.

It is understood the other attacks used the same methods.

Airbus and Rolls-Royce did not immediately reply to AFP’s request for comment.

Expleo said it would neither “confirm nor deny” that it had been targeted.

Chinese hackers?

But it seems the hackers appeared to be interested in technical documents linked to the certification process for different parts of Airbus aircraft.

The security sources also told AFP that several stolen documents were related to the engines of the Airbus military transport plane A400M, which apparently has some of the most powerful propeller engines in the world.

One of the sourcessaid the hackers were also interested in the propulsion systems for the Airbus A350 passenger jet, as well as its avionics systems.

But AFP sources said they suspected Chinese hackers were responsible, given their past track record of stealing sensitive commercial information and the existence of a motive.

Third Party link

One security experts highlighted the problem that can be caused by hackers exploiting weaknesses in third-party computer systems.

“Cyber gangs have already been successfully targeting suppliers and other trusted parties of their victims for many years,” said Ilia Kolochenko, founder and CEO of web security company ImmuniWeb.

“There is no need to undertake an expensive, time-consuming and risky assault of a castle if you can quickly get in via a loophole,” said Kolochenko. “The problem is that most of the suppliers struggle to win bids in a highly competitive and turbulent global market, often in conscious disregard of cybersecurity fundamentals. Implementation of information security at a level comparable to their VIP customers will boost their internal costs thereby considerably increasing their market prices making them uncompetitive.”

“Worse, large global companies such as Airbus have a great wealth of countless trusted third-parties across the globe that it would be virtually unfeasible to keep an eye on how cybersecurity is implemented at their suppliers without skyrocketing monitoring and compliance costs,” said ImmuniWeb’s Kolochenko.

“Third-party risk management is still nascent in most of the organisations and is frequently composed of paper-based superfluous control,” said Kolochenko. “Nonetheless, we cannot rebuke these companies in doing so, as shareholders will unlikely agree to spend many millions on surveilling third-parties at their own costs.”

The situation is largely exacerbated by different national and regional standards and best practices, often incompatible or contrariwise overlapping,” he added. “Though, globally recognised standards, such as ISO 27001, 27701 and 9001, can definitely ensure a baseline of security, privacy and quality assurance amid suppliers. One should, however, bear in mind that they are no silver bullet and some additional monitoring of suppliers handling critical business data is a requisite.”

The scale of the danger to the third party supplier chain was shown in June this year, when a ransomware attack on one of the world’s largest suppliers of aeroplane parts, caused it to cease production in factories across four countries.

That attack also reportedly impacted Airbus production.

ASCO Industries based in Belgium, reportedly had to send home the vast majority of its workforce after the ransomware attack.

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