​Airbus Group: The Journey to Infosec Competency

With about 145,000 employees and 160,000 suppliers based in 35 countries representing 130 nationalities, the Airbus Group has been on a long journey over the last five years. The company has transformed company into a security-aware enterprise while continuing production. This is with manufacturing already booked solid for most of the next decade.

Stephane Lenco, the Airbus Group’s Chief Information Security Officer, says the journey is far from complete but that the company has made significant progress over the last five years. He spoke during the opening of the 2016 ACSC Annual Conference.

Lenco says the Airbus Group’s journey began in 2011. At the time, large scale worms and APTs were emerging as the biggest threats. With interests in manufacturing, being a public company with public and private sector customers and a large professional workforce engaged in engineering, defence, governments and financial services, an analysis of the most affected business sectors and functions, that included a look at what exploits were being offered on the Dark Web, meant Airbus Group was right in the firing line.

“I had a problem, I don’t know what to do. So need I need to do something”, he says.

From 2012 to 2015, Lenco and his team began the task of creating a more robust security defence and response strategy.

The initial focus was on policy and governance and the best effort put focus on response as that was easiest.

Airbus Group started by identifying the potential threat actors and attackers. These were activists and hackers, criminals, spies, terrorists, competitors, customers, and insiders.

Then, Airbus Group looked at the potential threats and mapped those against the actors and attackers. This allowed Lenco to channel his resources on initiatives where there was a high risk to the organisation.

This is an important point. Many businesses see the threat landscape and can be overwhelmed by all the potential threats. But by doing a proper analysis of which threats are a source of specific risks it becomes possible to direct resources in the best possible way, given what you know at the time.

Once that exercise was complete, Lenco engaged in a benchmarking exercise to work out what Airbus Group wasn’t doing, identify areas for improvement, what mistakes were made and to address individual performance.

Like many companies, Airbus Group has adopted tools originally created by others. One such tool is the Lockheed Martin Kill Chain. Lenco noted that in the six steps of the kill chain – reconnaissance, initial exploitation, establish persistence, installation, lateralisation, and actions on objectives – the responsive nature of Airbus Group’s initial strategy meant they were only addressing the last three layers of the kill chain.

The next step in the development of Airbus Group’s information security competence was to start looking at the first three layers of the kill chain.

Interestingly, Lenco told the ACSC audience that he was not particularly focussed on attribution. He says this is largely a matter for law enforcement. For business, it’s about how the attackers got in, what they did and recovery from the incident.

Today, Lenco says Airbus Group is not an “A player” but has improved significantly over the last five years. He says “It’s not about the destination, it’s about the journey”.

One of the consequences of the improvements he has guided at Airbus Group is “I’m a victim of my success”.

As a result, he is busier than ever as the business engages with him more, getting the involvement of the information security team in more projects.

This is perhaps the best indicator of his program’s success.

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