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Airport lab hacks into terror minds

Dum Dum: Calcutta airport is hosting a global aviation security lab that takes Hollywood-like but highly plausible scenarios like air traffic control, check-in and baggage check systems being hacked so that answers can be found before terrorists pose questions.

"A cyber attack can bring an airport to a grinding halt. You can't check-in and the ATC won't work," said Pierre Coutu, programme executive at the Airport Management Professional Accreditation Programme.

The two-day tabletop exercise involving 24 delegates from airports across the world is only the second one of its kind anywhere. The first such lab was held in Munich, Germany, in 2015.

Calcutta was apparently chosen because it is one of the few large airports still dependent on manual systems, which although dated could be a virtue in terms of security. Inline baggage screening at the city airport is restricted to the international wing. In the domestic section, fliers need to get their check-in baggage scanned at standalone X-ray machines.

The check-in process is, of course, manual at most Indian airports. Web check-in too requires a flier to go through the process of depositing registered baggage in a counter. In many other countries, self check-in with little or no manual intervention is the norm.

"Now imagine the check-in system of an airline being hacked. An unauthorised person can sneak into a flight that way. If the inline baggage check-in system is hacked, explosives and banned items can be put on an aircraft without the scanner being able to detect it. If terrorists are able to hack the air traffic control system, there will be a disaster in the skies," said an aviation security expert.

The accreditation programme devised by the Airport Council and International Civil Aviation Organisation is meant to increase professional knowledge and capabilities of airport personnel worldwide.

"Since most operations are now computer-based , our exercise is supposed to find ways to prevent it," said Coutu, who is from Canada.

The 24 delegates attending the lab that started on Wednesday include airport personnel from Morocco, Abu Dhabi, Kenya, Singapore, Croatia, Australia and India.

"Calcutta has a new terminal building and the airport director Atul Dixit is one of the first who underwent training under the programme," Coutu said.

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