One obviously critical area is the flight deck: and, even though flight controls are kept entirely separate from other Internet-connected systems on board aircraft, the potential for unauthorised access remains real. This is why Raytheon is working to develop an intrusion-detection system for cyberthreats to avionics. At the Dubai Airshow this week, the company is showcasing a 3D demonstration of how such a system may look. 

"This is a company-funded effort, and we think it's applicable to both commercial and military," says David Ray, vice-president of business development within Raytheon's information, intelligence and services division. "We've built a capability that is helping the pilot understand when they have a cyber-attack, by issuing a warning similar to a low-fuel warning or an engine-out warning. And we're also looking at ways we can remediate that problem  while in flight."

The system, which Ray says is presently at around TRL 4 (technology readiness level 4) but which the company intends to get to product-demonstrator standard within the next three years, works by detecting unauthorized access to the avionics bus. A notification is then pushed to the pilot's display, with sufficient detail to enable a decision to be taken on whether remediation is possible to conduct in the air, or whether the aircraft should return to base. 

 A key preoccupation during the ongoing development is around how such a system will interpret each incident. An intrusion may not have any effect whatsoever on the functionality of the aircraft, so an incorrect diagnosis - either by the pilot or by the system itself - could result in the needless cancellation of a flight. Similarly, what appears at first to be an inconsequential cyber event may turn out to be a very damaging attack, and a failure to get back on the ground may result in the loss of the aircraft.

Says Brooks Cleveland, an airline pilot who also flies F-18s in the U.S. Navy Reserve and consults as an aviation specialist for Raytheon: "I just want to know if there's something going on I need to pay closer attention to. Not to the point that it tells me exactly what - although that would be nice - but just enough to get the hair on the back of my neck to stand up."