United States: New TSA Cybersecurity Roadmap Articulates Clear Aviation Sector Requirements

Last Updated: December 13 2018
Article by Norma M. Krayem

Norma M Krayem is Senior Policy Advisor in Holland & Knight's Washington D.C. office


  • The recent release of the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) Cybersecurity Roadmap (Roadmap) is the result of several years of discussion across administrations to determine which U.S. government agency should be responsible for overseeing and potentially regulating cybersecurity risk in the aviation industry.
  • The Roadmap makes clear that TSA is the lead agency that will oversee and assess the cyber posture of the aviation industry, conduct risk assessments of the industry and focus on the aviation industry's reporting of cybersecurity attacks.
  • It also demonstrates that TSA will use all statutory and regulatory authorities "... to ensure the resilience of" the Transportation Systems Sector (TSS), which includes aviation, both passenger and cargo.

This is the first in a series of Holland & Knight alerts about the new Cybersecurity Roadmap announced by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) on Dec. 4, 2018. The Roadmap covers other transportation sectors as well.

TSA Issues New Cybersecurity Roadmap

In unveiling its new Cybersecurity Roadmap (Roadmap), the TSA makes it clear for the first time ever that it has direct oversight of cybersecurity for all seven sectors that are part of the Transportation Systems Sector (TSS): aviation, highway and motor carrier, maritime, mass transit and passenger rail, pipeline systems, freight rail, and postal and shipping. The Roadmap discusses the urgent nature of the threat, stating that "the transportation systems' cyber environment and its underlying infrastructure are vulnerable to a wide range of risks stemming from both physical and cyber threats and hazards." It is also the first major public declaration by TSA that it has oversight of both cybersecurity and physical security and states that "The proliferation of technology presents cybersecurity challenges and leads to significant national risks."

TSA makes it that it is "responsible for the cybersecurity of the TSS sectors and [will] support it through several activities" and discusses a collaborative role working with the DHS Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA.) The Roadmap, supports the priority issues areas identified by the White House National Cyber Strategy, which specifically cited the transportation sector and aviation as an area of concern. It also reinforces the broad risks identified in the recently released U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Cybersecurity Strategy.

The Roadmap outlines multiple cybersecurity priorities which clearly define that TSA will be proactively working with the aviation sector:

TSA states that it has the responsibility to assess, prioritize and protect the aviation and other transportation subsectors.1 The report lists a series of new actions that make it clear that the aviation industry is expected to fully participate. TSA will focus on:

  • Conducting a full assessment of the cybersecurity threats to the industry
  • Assessing, prioritizing and identifying gaps in the aviation sector's cybersecurity readiness
  • Adding, for the first time ever, cybersecurity into risk assessments that TSA will conduct on the aviation sector and all modes within the TSS2
  • Increasing the "... reporting and sharing of information on cyber-related incidents from owners and operators" to include "not just threat indicators and activity but also lessons learned, potential consequences and vulnerability-related information."3
  • Looking at cyber risk to the industry from "non-regulated entities such as vendors, managed service providers and contracted services."
  • All of which will be supported by TSA using regulatory measures, if needed4

TSA also makes clear that it will use all necessary tools including not hesitating to "utilize its statutory and regulatory authorities to ensure the resilience of the TSS." Working with government and industry stakeholders it will also:

  • Look to "to drive better cybersecurity by promoting the development and adoption of best practices and industry and/or international standards"5
  • Direct industry efforts to mitigate systemic risk across the TSS
  • Monitor and "engage TSS stakeholders on a regular basis to evaluate their implementation of guidance and to determine their cybersecurity practices and to promote resilience to malicious cyber activity"6
  • "Influence vulnerability discovery and mitigation development for transportation technologies"7
  • Create a "Cybersecurity Management Directive" to integrate agency-wide programs and functions8
  • Develop "a coordinated response capability for internal and external cyber incidents"9
  • Establish sector-wide guidance for all TSS stakeholders that aligns with the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) Framework, the National Cyber Incident Response Plan, and the Cybersecurity Information Sharing Act of 2015 to increase reporting and facilitate response10

The Roadmap is not limited to just domestic oversight, TSA is also very clear that it intends to broaden its federal and international efforts to strengthen the cybersecurity of the aviation ecosystem.11  It is important to note that this may be the second-largest international aviation security effort since 9/11. The TSA effort will create new international aviation cybersecurity efforts that will include:

  • Working with international organizations such as the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), and other international partners to expand on comprehensive planning for a secure cyberspace
  • Creating a process that will determine which "foreign transportation entities" will receive cyber threat information and include developing "cyber threat information sharing agreements that provide clear guidance on distribution and use of threat information"
  • Developing an outline and rules of engagement that will include sharing aviation cyber threats with "relevant foreign government and private sector entities"

The Roadmap indicates that TSA will work to leverage existing DHS capabilities and authorities in the cybersecurity arena and makes clear that it will be the primary agency overseeing cybersecurity for the aviation sector.

New DoD Cybersecurity Strategy Impacts the Aviation Sector

It is notable that the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) also rolled out a Cybersecurity Strategy recently, and for the first time, included a priority focus on its role to protect privately owned Critical Infrastructure sectors. Aviation, both passenger and cargo, have always played a critical role in our nation's domestic and national security needs, and should expect to see an increased role coming from DoD as well as DHS and TSA. The report explicitly states:

"The Department seeks to preempt, defeat, or deter malicious cyber activity targeting U.S. critical infrastructure that could cause a significant cyber incident regardless of whether that incident would impact DoD's warfighting readiness or capability. Our primary role in this homeland defense mission is to defend forward by leveraging our focus outward to stop threats before they reach their targets. The Department also provides public and private sector partners with indications and warning (I&W) of malicious cyber activity, in coordination with other Federal departments and agencies."

Congress Focuses on Cybersecurity Risks to the Aviation Sector

Congressional concerns over cyber risk to the aviation sector have existed for some time. On Sept. 6, 2018, the House Homeland Security Committee held one of the first hearings focused on cyber risk to aviation entitled "Understanding Cybersecurity Threats to America's Aviation Sector." The hearing focused on known cyber threats to the industry, how it is managing the risks and what is being known to manage known vulnerabilities. Incoming House Homeland Security Chairman Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) stated at the time, "When it comes to physical security at our airports and our airplanes, we impose strict requirements designed to keep bad actors, explosives, and other illicit materials out. But there are no equivalent cybersecurity standards."

Current Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Protection Subcommittee Chairman John Ratcliffe (R-Texas) focused on the changing nature of security risks to the industry stating, "However, as devices, aircraft, and systems become more interconnected, cybersecurity will increasingly play a larger role in aviation security. Because nation states, cyber criminals, and "hacktivists," all possess an incentive to manipulate systems within the sector." Incoming Cybersecurity Subcommittee Chairman Cedric Richmond (D-La.) stated: "We have invested heavily in securing airplanes and airports against the kinds of attacks perpetrated by the 9/11 terrorists. But the threat landscape has evolved, and our adversaries have changed. Those who wish to do us harm have new tools at their disposal – giving them the ability to target aviation systems without stepping foot in an airport and without clear lines of attribution."

Next Steps

Cybersecurity risks to all Critical Infrastructure sector is not a new issue. However, it is clear that the Trump Administration and U.S. Congress have clear concerns about cyber risks to the aviation sector. The administration is making clear with the release of this report that TSA is in charge of cybersecurity risk to aviation and it will use regulatory authority, if needed, to address cyber risk in the U.S. and with other international partners around the world. On a global basis, the aviation sector can expect a much more robust set of cybersecurity requirements and expectations than it has had in the past. More information on these issues will be shared in future alerts or, for specific questions about the potential effect on your organization, contact Holland & Knight Senior Policy Advisor Norma Krayem. She is chair of the firm's Global Cybersecurity and Privacy Policy and Regulation Team, and served as a former Deputy Chief of Staff for the U.S. Department of Transportation.


1 Goal 1.1

2 Ibid.

3 Objective 1.1.1

4 Ibid

5 Goal 2.2

6 Objective 2.2.2

7 Objective 2.2.5

8 Objective 4.2.1

9 Objective 3.1.2

10 Objective 3.1.1

11 Goal 4.1

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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