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Blockchain is a data structure that has the ability to establish a digital archive or record blocks of data such as transactions that can be shared and easily accessed by users across networks of different computers.
In recent years, several airlines, aircraft maintenance repair and overhaul (MRO) providers and other aviation companies have announced initiatives and research programs ranging from the use of blockchain for managing the replacement of parts on in-service airplanes to purchasing flights. Security experts now believe that Blockchain has the potential to secure multiple processes and transactions across multiple processes across the aviation ecosystem.
This digital ledger of transactions can record each time a part is installed or removed from an airplane. It can also readily capture each part’s pedigree and how long the part being replaced was in service and the identity, location and credentials of the technician performing the repair. By design, a blockchain is resistant to modification of this historical data. Along with Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Internet of Things (IoT), it’s been described as one third of the “holy trinity of disruptive technology.”
Because it can be de-centralized, blockchain’s feature of storing information on a digital ledger makes it appealing to avionics players involved in design as well as the industry as it looks for smarter, more secure says to store flight records, maintenance statuses, and other data.
“Blockchain will provide a safe harbor for design – we’ll always be able to revert to a safe design, plus we would theoretically have the ability to track all changes and the authors of those changes,” says Vance Hilderman, co-founder and CEO of AFuzion, a 45-person software systems and safety development consulting company that has trained more than 1,500 engineers on how to implement cybersecurity and software systems standards for FAA and EASA compliance.
Hilderman says that blockchain’s user anonymity that is so prized in financial transactions would need to be made visible for aviation applications. Using it to design avionics systems would require revising it so every supplier, developer and user along the chain is identified along with the version and their contributions.
David Sheets, security architect for Curtiss Wright, sees the blockchain being a future security strategy to fight cyber intrusions from quantum computers, especially in the area of encryption.
“As more quantum computers come online, they can potentially break asymmetric encryption, which is used for signing and verification. Blockchain is an alternate strategy that relies on hashing instead of asymmetric encryption, so it’s resistant to those quantum computer attacks that asymmetric encryption fall to,” says Sheets.