What We Looked At
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) operates up to 172 Terminal Radar Approach Control (TRACON) facilities, which provide air traffic control services to pilots in the airspace immediately surrounding major airports. Currently, air traffic controllers use the Standard Terminal Automation Replacement System (STARS) to provide critical air traffic services at the 11 largest TRACONs, which handle about 33 percent of all TRACON traffic in the United States. Effective security controls and contingency plans at these 11 facilities are critical to maintaining the safety and security of the National Airspace System. Accordingly, we initiated this audit to (1) assess FAA’s identification and mitigation of security risks in STARS and (2) determine whether FAA’s contingency planning limits the effects caused by the loss of STARS operations at large TRACON facilities during emergencies.
What We Found
FAA is identifying STARS’ security risks but is not mitigating vulnerabilities in a timely manner. In March 2019, for example, FAA found vulnerabilities in 53 of 73 STARS security controls but did not meet its own schedule for remediating them. DOT policy requires timely remediation of vulnerabilities to reduce the risk that an attacker could gain unauthorized access to mission-critical systems. In addition, the Agency’s STARS incident response policy does not comply with Federal requirements, and we found security control weaknesses that could make it harder for the Agency to ensure the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of STARS. Finally, FAA’s contingency plans for three large TRACONS are not sufficient to maintain continuity of air traffic operations during unplanned outages, as Agency policy requires.
We made 11 recommendations and consider recommendations 1–9 and 11 resolved but open pending completion of FAA’s planned actions. In accordance with DOT Order 8000.1C, we have asked the Agency to provide additional information on its planned actions for recommendation 10 within 30 days of the date of this report.