Airspace Q3 2018: Information exchange to benefit all

11 September 2018

Securing system-wide information management will be a challenge, but its transformation potential makes implementation worthwhile.

System-wide information management (SWIM) represents a fundamental shift in air traffic processes.

Although often described as "the ATM Intranet", SWIM is not a single system but rather a service-driven concept based on the free exchange of information throughout the network. Using service-oriented architecture (SOA), open mainstream technologies, agreed standards and common definitions should ensure all stakeholders are accessing, sharing and processing the same information for the benefit of the customer.

In short, quality data is delivered to the right people at the right time. The result will be a more efficient, cost-effective and customer-focused ATM industry.

Interpreting recommendations

The sheer scope of SWIM means there is still a long, hard road ahead, however. Simply implementing SOA is not enough to guarantee interoperability. The various stakeholders have different needs, different business models and different financial and technical expertise.

A number of competing requirements are possible, including, but not limited to:

• Security versus performance
• Reliability versus cost
• Reliability versus pace of change

Security, for example, is seen by some as conflicting with SWIM's open architecture and array of connection points.

"The SWIM Yellow Profile (see panel) contains a promisingly wide range of security and resilience requirements," says Matt Shreeve, a cybersecurity expert at Helios. He warns, however, that on closer inspection, many of these so-called requirements are actually only recommendations or options, which alone will not give adequate assurance to stakeholders that enough resilience is being built into SWIM. So, further collaborative work on compliance and mutual assurance is needed.

Shreeve cites patching – a mainstay of protecting commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) technology like SWIM – as an example. It is only a recommendation. Similarly, protection from denial of service attacks, which is essential for public networks, is optional.

"Of course, the SWIM deployment architecture and individual service providers may well build in these and other measures needed for resilience, but there is no guarantee that they will," says Shreeve.

"SWIM is not a single system, and there is a risk that the security requirements may be interpreted differently."

Meanwhile, the SWIM Blue Profile, intended for real-time information exchange, is still under development. Significant efforts will be needed to make it robust and resilient, and, again, collaboration will be key.

A major leap forward

Setting up SWIM from scratch does carry advantages too. Josef Jahn, SWIM System Architect, Frequentis AG, notes that though the shift from traditional point-to-point connections towards a service driven ecosystem increases the potential attack surface, "in contrast to many traditional ATM systems and standards, SWIM tackled security as one of the main aspects of design from the very beginning".

He continues: "From the authentication of communication parties to validation and encryption as well as resilience against vulnerability exploits, security was never seen as just a network issue. Compared with classic systems and protocols, SWIM is a major leap in security and reliability, both by employing state-of-the-art technologies and best practices, and by the decentralised design."

Shreeve agrees that, if deployed and operated properly, then SWIM could reduce overall cyber risk since many insecure legacy protocols would be replaced. And though SWIM is based on open technologies, it is at least securable and could lead to a modern, well-understood information sharing mechanism.

The hard work will be in establishing trustworthy information sharing through strong-but-inclusive governance and harmonised compliance regimes.

Trusted sources

In this regard, Shreeve believes the next couple of years will be critical. If the non-technical work involving governance and compliance is completed and supports greater security, then ATM will have taken a big step forward.

The key, says Shreeve, is that SWIM services should include the means to demonstrate their integrity: through technical means, such as cryptographic checks, and non-technical means, such as service compliance and assurance evidence. This is a logical advance on today's situation where, for example, Aeronautical Information Publications are openly available, but still trusted.

The sheer diversity of service providers and users – everything from a small general aviation aerodrome to major suppliers on a worldwide basis – means SWIM standards are vital. But so too is the consistent application of these standards. "A pragmatic approach builds confidence slowly through progressive deployment and use," suggests Shreeve. "This is especially important given ANSPs concerns over using the internet and public networks for sharing operationally critical data."

Jahn concurs that the information exchange models and service definitions are of equal importance to technical standards and will be essential to true interoperability.

"SWIM compliance needs to be independently verified to prevent it from becoming a mere bullet point on a feature list," he notes. "There is a risk of solution providers offering "SWIM compliant" products and solutions, which fulfil parts of the SWIM specifications, but do not achieve interoperability.

"The same is true for security, where often a network firewall is seen as sufficient to fulfil some of the requirements."

Jahn believes users need to see SWIM not just as a regulatory requirement but as a chance to drive down integration costs, provide and monetise new services, as well as enable competition in a business in which products traditionally come with a complete vendor lock-in.

ATM adoption

Ultimately, collaboration is the key to success of the SWIM concept. The industry must move from bilaterally negotiated interfaces to a cost-efficient network-oriented exchange of information. The Internet technology-based IT operations common today in many other industries must be adopted by ATM.

Once SWIM is implemented, new opportunities in how information is shared and used await (see big data article).

Moreover, commercial off-the-shelf technologies will speed up implementations times, bring down costs and increase the overall flexibility of the ATM system.

Sharing information

The list of ATM stakeholders that would benefit from sharing information through the SWIM concept includes:

• Pilots – all aspects of flight
• Airport Operations Centres – managing departures, surface movements, gates and arrivals
• Airline Operations Centres – building schedules, planning flight routings and fuel uplift, ensuring passenger connections and minimising the impact of any delays
• ANSPs – organising and managing airspace
• Meteorology Service Providers – providing weather reports and forecasts
• Military Operations – planning missions and blocking airspace to conduct training operations.

ATM cybersecurity

Helios' Matt Shreeve says there is a lot of talk about cybersecurity issues and funding, but more action is needed.

He applauds the awareness and early cooperation demonstrated by the many working groups and documents in recent years. But this must lead to practical action on an industry-recognised set of detailed risks, "including difficult-to-secure legacy technologies such as voice and automatic dependent surveillance – broadcast."

 

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