Airbus Defence and Space has given cyber security the highest possible priority. To this end the company is at the forefront of developments to combat cyber insurgency. It has never been harder to be a hacker.

Safety benefits from virtual reality technology

What if it were possible to use virtual reality to recreate every aspect of a real flight? It is. Airbus Helicopter's Dr. Marcus Bauer is responsible for EVE, a virtual technology project which helps to understand and prevent accident scenarios.

Tackling the cyber threat

Our digital networked environment is increasingly vulnerable to cyber attack, a phenomenon which is perhaps more accurately defined as “the takeover of an organization via its IT system. Protecting your organisation against cyber attack is no longer just a story line from science fiction. High Flyer talked to Airbus Defence and Space Cyber Security experts, to understand both the nature of the threat and what is being done to mitigate it.


Perhaps the following sounds far-fetched. “Cyber terrorists could derail passenger trains loaded with lethal chemicals, contaminate the water supply in major cities or shut down the power grid across large parts of the country.” Until recently scenarios such as these were more likely to be one of the many threats faced by Jack Bauer in the popular TV series “24”. However, the quotation comes from former US Secretary of Defense Leon Panatta speaking in 2012.

Cyber attack is not just about sabotage either. As NSA whistle-blower Edward Snowden revealed in 2013 cyber espionage is (and will remain) a fundamental element in the so-called war on terror and in international power games. Director General of the British intelligence organization MI5 Jonathan Evans made the following statement in 2012, “The extent of what is going on is astonishing. One major London listed company with which we have worked estimates that it incurred revenue losses of some £800m as a result of hostile state cyber attack – not just through intellectual property loss but also from commercial disadvantage in contractual negotiations.”

The main feature that distinguishes attackers is their motivation, which can be analysed according to the classic Mice scheme – Money, Ideology, Compromise, Ego. Whatever their ultimate goal may be, they are very well informed about their target (for instance through social networks), extremely organised, and occasionally even commissioned and financed by the state. Furthermore, they look for highly targeted information.

The most sophisticated of these groups of attackers design specific tools for their own purposes and develop them during an attack. One example of this is PlugX, which Airbus Defence and Space experts saw emerge in 2013. The majority of attacker teams still use tools that are well known in cyber circles but are unfortunately still operational. They are therefore perfectly aware of how to get round standard security equipment and also use classic IT administration tools to make themselves undetectable at first sight. It may take these attackers a long time to infiltrate your network, but this matters little to them: a single fruitful attempt will suffice to achieve their aims.

And the frequency with which organizations are subjected to cyber attack is increasing. The US Department of Defense recorded a number of incursions in 2012/2013 including the extraction of classified information concerning weapons systems such as the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter and the Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense System. Critical infrastructure such as the Carmel Tunnel in Haifa in Israel was subjected to attack in September 2013. Hackers crippled the supervision cameras system, which led to eight hours of traffic chaos.

One statistic makes it clear why it is important to be able to nip cyber attacks in the bud. Airbus Defence and Space’s own research revealed that on average, advanced attackers are on a network for 371 days before being detected. It is therefore critical that an attacker be discovered as early as possible in order to prevent them reaching the core of an organization’s IT system.

tackling the cyber threat

The impact of such attacks is enormous. The damage incurred ranges from the loss of control of critical national infrastructure, compromised national security and disruption of IT systems to a loss of data and financial loss. At the very least, it results in the worst possible PR and loss of trust from customers and partners.

With this in mind Airbus Defence and Space established Cyber Defence Centres (CDCs) that connect observation, network monitoring, detection, response and investigation team services in real time.

Longstanding cyber security measures include such items as anti-virus programmes on work- stations, intrusion detection equipment and firewalls. They are in the main sufficient for the majority of threats thus far – the problem is now three-fold. Firstly, cyber criminals, cyber experts sponsored by governments and so-called “hacktivists” are becoming more and more sophisticated. Security measures require constant updating. Secondly, security monitoring undertaken by so-called Security Operations Centres (SOCS) is unable to analyse the impact of an attack or advise on a remedial plan. As a result new attacks remain undetected. The third problem is the combination of the first two, namely that detection and analysis are not combined.

The members of the Cyber Defence Centre team operate mainly in Europe, spread between Germany, France and the UK but also work in the Middle East and the USA. The CDC team is dedicated to supporting two kinds of customers:

Defence and governments, critical infrastructure and industries. More specifically, the CDC combines a number of services, which working in unison are able to combat cyber attacks. These include a full time observation service able to analyse the most recent threats and vulnerabilities, a monitoring service that is supplied with all the necessary tools by the observation service for detecting new attacks as soon as they are identified. Finally it is equipped with investigative capabilities to classify alerts, analyse their potential impact and determine appropriate action. In short the CDC utilizes a three-pronged defence strategy:

  • Awareness and anticipation
  • Detection and investigation
  • Understanding and making decisions

Awareness and anticipation is all about keeping hackers on the radar screen and monitoring what is being published in the academic world or on discussion forums. Tests are then run on the strength of this research with the aim of producing two very different results: the first is a so-called signature enabling Airbus Defence and Space to track a new attack in customers’ IT systems. The second is a suite of countermeasures known as detection rules enabling security equipment to be updated to block an attack as quickly as possible.

Detection and investigation of a cyber attack needs to happen equally quickly. Airbus Defence and Space’s CyberSecurity unit created a tool called Keelback® that combines signature tracking and behaviour detection that reveals the presence of attackers.

Keelback is fitted to the IT workstations and to the internet exit point. It has three components; the first detects “unusual” behaviour, the second combats this behaviour and the third investigates it in order to identify the source. The central processing centre is notified of each incident, which it then compares to the signatures stored in the system.

The final part of the process is understanding and making decisions. The Cymerius® tool is central to this as it enables teams responding to an attack to follow their actions in real time. Cymerius® synchronises tasks at the CDC. It relieves the operator of a number of tedious tasks, such as collecting all the logs required for investigating an incident after it has been detected. He or she can then concentrate on analysis and classification activities. Being aware of the threats associated with the criticality of customers’ assets means that informed decisions can be made in order to visualise and contain attacks in progress as rapidly as possible.

The Enhanced Virtual Environment (EVE) - Learning lessons to improve safety
Airbus Helicopter - Dr. Marcus Bauer
Accident investigation is hard, and at times unpleasant work. The human element is an increasingly important factor in accident investigation. Airbus Helicopters has developed the Enhanced Virtual Environment platform known as EVE that makes it much easier to piece together the moments immediately preceding any incident or accident, presenting them in a virtual environment from the pilot’s perspective. Head of Airbus Helicopters Simulation Department, Dr. Marcus Bauer took time out to tell High Flyer all about it.

HF: Dr. Bauer – How did you get into the aerospace business?

I initially studied aeronautics at the Munich University of Applied Sciences before completing my Masters degree in Mechanical and Process Engineering at the Technical University in Darmstadt. There I was able to do my PhD in Flight Systems and Automatic Control. I joined Lufthansa Flight Training in Frankfurt where I was responsible for the A320-Family Full Flight Simulators. I joined Cassidian in 2001 (now Airbus Defence & Space) working as a Simulation Engineer on Tornado, Eurofighter and the A400M. I moved to Airbus Helicopters in 2007 to work in avionics. From 2011 I assumed responsibility for the trans-national department driving all research and development simulation activities including virtual reality.

HF: What is EVE and what was the intention behind developing it?

Airbus Helicopters launched a project to develop an innovative means of supporting accident investigations using virtual-reality technology in 2009. Today the project goes by the name “Enhanced Virtual Environment” (EVE) and is driven solely by the Franco-German team members of my department. The software makes use of Virtual-Reality technology using a professional helmet mounted display such as Oculus equipped with two display monitors that recreate a stereoscopic view of the virtual environment. The head and body movements are recorded by an optical tracking system to update the user perspective in real-time.
Thanks to the great strides that have recently been made in graphics technology, the equipment can transform a high performance laptop computer (suitable for gaming) into a virtual helicopter cockpit. As Bauer explains, “The Enhanced Virtual Environment has enormous potential. It is an excellent application supporting our accident/incident investigations to give us a pilot’s eye view of what happened. It has helped our investigation teams and authorities to gain a much greater understanding of the accident from the pilot’s perspective. Around 80% of accidents today are attributable to human factors. This is why it is so important to both consider and comprehend the pilot’s situation and perspective. Just as importantly, the tool is not only used for investigation purposes but also demonstrates huge potential for lessons learned training.”

HF: What are the biggest advantages compared to the traditional investigation procedure?

Traditional investigation procedures simply don’t allow for this kind of immersive visualization.

EVE enables us to visualize the helicopter’s cockpit environment animated with information recovered from the flight data recorder and other sources such as radar data. We can do this very quickly and efficiently, while at the same time using reliable engineering data to generate an environment that is both highly realistic and technically accurate.

Potentially an accident could be played back in a training simulator, however this would be more expensive with no opportunity for mobile setup. Furthermore, it is complicated to make video recordings from the pilot’s perspective in the simulator.

The virtual-reality environment provides flexibility (in the cockpit, left seat, right seat, outside cockpit, etc.) and mobility (setup of laptop and HMD) and also supports our accident investigation teams in cooperation with the international authorities.

HF: What were the biggest challenges/obstacles during the development and implementation phases?

On a project like this there are always challenges! Apart from the complex technical issues, it is important for us to find the right people, people who are both innovative and communicative, often across continents and cultures. Leading and motivating our people is my primary task. We have lots of creative individuals coming up with solutions to problems, but it is the team that is ultimately responsible for working these solutions into the overall framework. It is of course technically challenging creating a platform that allows you to import very large quantities of engineering data including external world visualization (whole world terrain/database), interfacing with state of the art virtual-reality tools, ensuring real-time rendering (using 60Hz image update frequency). A number of demonstrations and tests were required by numerous authorities to convince them, that the tool can support a better understanding of the pilot’s situation by creating a virtual reality view of the accident scenario.

The Enhanced Virtual Environment (EVE)

HF: Does replaying the accident scenario in a VR environment have any impact on the pilot’s well-being (both physical and mental)?

Letting the accident replay in front of the pilot involved can be stressful but our experience thus far is that all pilots appreciated the playback to understand and learn from the situation. The playback of an accident has had a positive effect on a pilot who had survived the incident with him stating, “Yes, the playback is an accurate rendition of the event as I experienced it, right down to the last detail. Reliving the experience made the accident a lot clearer to me.”

HF: Have calculations on the return on investment (ROI) been undertaken for the project and if so, what were the results?

Although Safety and accident investigations are not relevant as far as any ROI is concerned safety is and will always be, a major priority for Airbus Helicopters. Every accident we are able to successfully replicate via VR can be analyzed in depth to prevent it happening again. Every accident we can avoid in future is a huge benefit for Airbus Helicopters, our customers and of course the industry as a whole! We recently presented the technology at the “CHC Safety Summit” in Vancouver in April this year. This is a huge conference with about 900 participants, where customers and industry come together every year to discuss the “status quo” and talk about the next steps to further improve safety in helicopter operations.

HF: What are the real benefits of EVE and how do you see it being developed in the future?

This technology was originally developed in military aviation (jets) while I was working for Airbus Defence and Space. My vision is to further develop and improve the technology for Airbus Helicopters. Weighing up the difference between the potential damage an accident can cause versus the investment required to fully investigate the reasons why the accident happened place is a process with considerable potential in many areas. EVE helps us to better understand the pilot’s decision-making process and which in turn clarifies the accident scenario. The tool has been in use at Airbus Helicopters for the last 5 years and has generated very positive feedback and great results beyond just clarifying the causes of an accident. It also provides us with information and training material for the future. In 2012 we worked with the American NTSB (National Transportation Safety Board) to visualize the pilot’s perspective in an incident involving an EC135. By replicating the specific visibility issues facing the pilot we were able to confirm whether the pilot had been able to see the other aircraft, and whether it was clearly visible through the cockpit windows.

HF: What does a potential placement student need to bring to the task?

I think there are three elements that are important: engagement, personality and what I would like to call innovative ability. Not only are we looking for people who can think out of the box, they need to be able to take that idea and run with it. Fifty percent of my job involves interfacing with mine and other departments supporting the development of our people. This of course is where the human resource department plays such a vital role. HR gave me incredible support during my PhD. I can say without hesitating for a second that university cooperations and our placement students play a crucial role in the success of the programme.

Training astronauts to operate the Airbus Defence and Space Automated Transfer Vehicle

The Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV) is built by Airbus Defence and Space to supply the International Space Station (ISS) with propellant, water, air, various payloads and experiments. In short the ATV is the ISS’s lifeline back to Earth. Airbus Defence & Space is not only responsible for its construction, but has played a major part in training astronauts to operate this umbilical cord-like spacecraft. High Flyer talked to astronaut instructor Richard Moss, responsible for this very challenging task.

Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV) is built by Airbus Defence and Space

How does a 42-year-old Englishman from Plymouth end up in Cologne teaching people to be Astronauts?

I graduated in “physics with space science and technology” from the University of Leicester in Great Britain in 1993. After working in England on remote sensing satellite engineering and in Canada on communications satellites, I moved to Toulouse where I started working on the Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV) and training flight controllers. After that the opportunity to go to Cologne to become an Astronaut Instructor at the European Astronaut Centre (EAC) was pretty much the icing on the cake!

Who do you teach?

Before any astronauts can fly up to the International Space Station (ISS) they have to complete a training course at the EAC in Cologne. Our students are as international as it gets coming from Russia, Europe, Japan, Canada and the United States of America. All astronauts have to pass basic training and then are prepared for their mission specific roles.

How important is the ATV to the success of the ISS programme?

Four ATVs (named Jules Verne, Johannes Kepler, Edoardo Amaldi and Albert Einstein) have been launched since 2008 and the fifth named after the Belgian astronomer Georges Lemaitre is due to be launched on July 26th this year. The ATV can carry both bulk liquids and fragile cargo in a pressurized cargo hold, which can be accessed by astronauts without having to wear spacesuits. After docking and payload transfer, the ATV’s liquid tanks are connected to the ISS’s tanks to pump the waste liquid across. The ATV remains in situ for approximately six months or until the cargo hold has been filled with approximately 6.5 tonnes of waste after which it is placed into a steep flight path to perform a controlled destructive re-entry into the earth’s atmosphere above the Pacific Ocean.

Airbus Defence & Space

What do you teach?

I have been responsible for ATV operation for international crew and flight controllers since 2008 and teach Robotics as part of the ESA basic training module. The lessons are conducted on either an individual basis or where required in pairs where the emphasis is on teamwork (For example rendezvous and docking manoeuvres are taught in teams of two). More recently however my job has been to coordinate the work of the 30 instructors centred in Cologne. Given the nature of the course with components spread between Russia, Japan and the USA, coordination is a complex affair.

Airbus Defence & Space

That sounds like a challenge – how is it for the students?

That’s an interesting point –a mission on the ISS typically lasts around six months. Our students spend the three years before a mission travelling between Germany, Russia, Japan and the USA to complete all the components of the course. In the past the training was even longer, but since the ISS is able to accommodate six people at any one time we are able to “spread the task load” between the students more effectively. Nevertheless the training remains both physically and mentally exhausting. It’s hard on families (even if they are able to accompany the trainees when they have to fly overseas). Between the training and fitness schedule, the public relations events may be the only real break they have!

The image we have of astronauts is of steeled individuals capable of dealing with any situation thrown at them – is there any truth in that?

In the heyday of the space race, getting into orbit was the challenge. Today it is the work being conducted in space that is more important and our choice of students reflects that. A major challenge for the students is the sheer volume of training and work expected of them, and I am constantly amazed at the capability of the human brain.

That being said, there was recently a reminder of “the right stuff” as ESA astronaut Luca Parmitano experienced a spacesuit malfunction during a spacewalk. Thanks to his personal background and all the training he received, Luca remained 100% calm and professional as he struggled back to the airlock to receive help from his crewmates.

What support do the astronauts have from your team while they are on a mission?

Some of the instructors here are also part-time EUROCOMS who are able to talk directly to the astronauts on board the ISS. This is very important, as the relationship we build to our students is a personal one. It is crucial that people can trust one another. The Columbus Control Centre in Munich is staffed 24/7 and is able to help on all matters.

Have you travelled to the ISS yourself?

I thought about it when the European Space Agency (ESA) announced selections for a new class of astronauts in 2008 and that for the first time UK citizens were eligible to apply. I rapidly dismissed the idea however as I thought I was too old. That said, my involvement with the ATV project has been the ride of a lifetime. An astronaut once told me jokingly, he had the best job “out of this world” – I think mine comes a pretty close second!

Airbus Defence & Space