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By Bruce Sussman
Mon | Apr 26, 2021 | 9:52 AM PDT

Think about a jet engine in flight.

The blades are spinning. Air is rushing in and then back out, propelling the aircraft at a speed of several hundred miles per hour through the air. 

More than this, however, the engine is constantly collecting data and analytics of its operation and its environment and communicating that to the aircraft's onboard network. Flight crews can make adjustments based on the data.

But what about a cyberattack mid-flight? With all that the engine is doing already, does it have abundant computing resources left to defend itself or report an attack to those who can defend it? 

The answer is no. But only for now.

Protecting jet engines from cyberattacks

Rolls-Royce powers commercial aircraft around the world. Its engines are now in service on the Airbus A330, A340, A350, and A380, as well as the Boeing 777 and 787 Dreamliner.

And the company just announced it is trying something new to secure its engines by creating a security research network and funding cybersecurity efforts at Carnegie Mellon and Purdue University.

Neil Cassidy, Chief Information Security Officer for Rolls-Royce, explains it like this:

"It is crucial for global technology companies like Rolls-Royce to be continually vigilant and proactive in identifying and defending against cyber threats. This new network with these leading universities will ensure we are focusing on the most vital research areas and constantly evolving to meet ever-changing threats."

[RELATED: The Planes We Fly: Cybersecurity in Aviation]

AI-powered cybersecurity for resource-constrained environments

And in this case, Cassidy and his Rolls-Royce team are asking the universities to focus on a breakthrough in AI-powered cybersecurity.

"Artificial Intelligence is one of the most effective methods to detect undesired or anomalous behaviors within systems. However, traditional AI requires significant computing resources. This new research is focused on developing AI approaches that can be utilized in resource-constrained embedded systems that are prevalent in many of our products."

If the research teams can help secure resource-limited systems in flight, imagine the other embedded devices that might also catch better cybersecurity in the process.

The new technology research network is expected to conduct two to three projects with each school per year and is funded by Rolls-Royce.

Three major projects have already launched at the two universities, with additional projects expected to begin later in the year.

Are you working on a cybersecurity breakthrough? Let us know at

And in the meantime, here's to even safer flying in the days ahead.

[Image credit: Rolls-Royce]