NASA Might Use Blockchain Technology to Guarantee the Security of Aircraft Data

NASA is studying whether blockchain technology could be a means to guarantee the privacy and security of aircraft flight data.

Ronald Reisman, an aero-computer engineer at NASA Ames Research Center, published a paper this week, proposing that blockchain networks and smart contracts could help alleviate some security concerns.

Beginning on Jan. 1, 2020, the U.S. has been mandated by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to employ a new surveillance system known as the Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast (ADS-B), which will publicly broadcast aircrafts’ identity, position, and other information.

However, stakeholders have now raised security worries according to Reisman’s paper. He explained that the ADS-B system does not include provisions for maintaining these same aircraft-privacy options, nor does it look at the potential for spoofing, denial of service, and other well-documented risks.

He also writes that civil aircraft companies would prefer to keep some data private. For instance, to counter tracking executives as part of corporate espionage operations.

Meanwhile, military aircraft traffic data is defined by the Department of Defense as Information that, if disclosed, would reveal vulnerabilities in the DoD critical infrastructure and, if exploited, would likely result in the significant disruption, destruction, or damage of or to DoD operations, property, or facilities.

Reisman explained that due to the sensitivity of related air traffic data, the military’s need for confidentiality is likely to remain decisive with the adoption and use of ADS-B.

To touch on these and other problems, the researcher presents a prototype in the paper, known as the Aviation Blockchain Infrastructure (ABI), based on Hyperledger Fabric and smart contracts, which enables control over what data is shared publicly or privately with authorized parties.

For example, aircraft state information, including altitude, indicated airspeed, and heading, etc., could be kept safe through a private channel, while flight-plan information, like aircraft type, origin, destination, filed route, etc., can be published on a public channel for access to members who are approved.

Reisman suggests using a ‘lightly permissioned’ blockchain framework to allow the ADS-B systems to live up to or surpass the same levels of privacy and security presently offered by radar-based systems in the NAS [National Airspace System].

NASA has set out to examine blockchain on more than one occasion, for example last February, the agency awarded $330,000 to a professor at the University of Akron, to support research on ethereum blockchain technology to detect floating debris automatically.