Aviate, Navigate, Communicate

Alessandro Telami | 29 February 2016

I’m an aviation enthusiast. Flying is exhilarating; it gives you a sense of freedom, provides breathtaking views and allows you see the world from a different perspective. But there’s a lot of information to take in and a failure to do so can be catastrophic.

 The fundamental axiom in aviation is: “Aviate, Navigate, Communicate.” Pilots who rigorously perform these three extremely important tasks in the right order demonstrate good airmanship. Parallels exist within the world of information security.

 The first priority is to aviate - pilots must fly the aircraft and keep it safely in the air. Similarly, CIOs and CISOs must keep their organizations’ IT systems operational. Failure to do so is likely to result in service outages, loss of productivity and loss of revenue.

 Secondly, pilots must navigate. Simply put, this involves flying the aircraft towards your destination. But it’s not simple. It involves numerous planning and calculations in order to get it right. In an organization this could be compared to establishing the correct policies, procedures, strategy, incident response plans, business continuity and continuous monitoring.

 The final step involves communicating with other aircraft that share the airspace with you, as well as with the relevant Air Traffic Services Units along the way. In an organization, this is very similar to going about your daily business, engaging with business partners, customers and vendors.

 With so many tasks to consider, pilots are faced with “cockpit information overload.” The pilot is required to perform a huge number of tasks simultaneously. Understandably, this can be very tiring and stressful, making it incredibly easy to make mistakes and miss critical pieces of information that lie outside of the cockpit and, therefore, outside of the pilot’s control.

 Our brains are not very good at multitasking and can only focus a very small number of tasks at any given time. As pilots concentrate their resources on the most important task (i.e. flying the aircraft), it becomes very difficult to simultaneously be aware of what is happening “outside the cockpit”.

 This is exactly the same challenge that every organization faces today.

 As organizations try to keep all of their systems and services running while simultaneously trying to monitor, detect and prevent any potential incidents that might occur within the organization networks, it is impossible to “simultaneously” have complete situational awareness of what is happening outside their networks.

 But pilots cannot ignore external factors and this is where Air Traffic Services Units (ATSUs) come in to play. ATSUs are arguably the single most important aid available to pilots and it would be remiss not to take advantage of them. They allow you to concentrate on the most important tasks that you have direct control over, informing you in a timely manner of potential hazards along the way. This includes things like adverse weather conditions, nearby aircrafts and airspace infringement risks.

 With this information at their disposal, pilots are able to make better and timely informed decisions, plan for alternative course of actions and, should the need arise, anticipate potential risks and do something about it. In a nutshell they provide situational awareness to pilots that ultimately helps them conduct a safe and efficient flight.

 For organizations, the equivalent of the ATSUs is cyber situational awareness. If done correctly, this can help organizations prevent costly mistakes, improve security posture and, ultimately, make better business decisions.