FBI: Hacker claimed to have taken over flight’s engine controls

17 May 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Airlines sceptical commercial planes can be ‘hacked’.

A prominent hacker has told the FBI that he managed to make an airliner “climb” and move “sideways” after infiltrating its in-flight entertainment system. Photo: Fox News Figures in the Australian aviation industry are sceptical whether it is possible to ‘hack in’ to the cockpit of a plane, after an American man allegedly told the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) he had taken control of a plane’s engines with his laptop. The claim was made by Chris Roberts, the founder of the cybersecurity firm One World Labs, who was escorted from a United Airlines flight last month after sending in-air tweets bragging that he could deploy the oxygen masks. The allegation that Mr Roberts said he had affected the actual performance the plane was made in an FBI affidavit applying for a warrant to search his computer, iPad and other electronic items that were confiscated by investigators after the tweeting incident.

He used the software to monitor traffic from the cockpit system.” Roberts attempted to board a United flight from Colorado to San Francisco to speak at a major security conference in April but was stopped by the airline’s corporate security at the gate. He stated that he thereby caused one of the aeroplane engines to climb resulting in a lateral or sideways movement of the plane during one of these flights,” the affidavit said. “He also stated that he used Vortex software after compromising/exploiting or ‘hacking’ the aeroplane’s networks.

The information in the warrant application demonstrates a “far more serious situation than Roberts has previously disclosed,” Wired reported, adding that Roberts earlier mentioned the ability to control a plane during a simulated test in a digital environment — but not while on a commercial airline. But despite Roberts’ assurances his only motivation in researching vulnerabilities in aircrafts was to improve security, Australian aviators have doubts the “hack” he detailed to the FBI works. The Civil Aviation Safety Authority, a government agency which oversees the safety of Australian aircraft, said the prospect of remotely controlling a plane was “unrealistic”. “These are issues that would be addressed by the manufacturers of the aircraft – Boeing and Airbus – in conjunction with the aviation regulators that first certified the aircraft – the FAA and EASA.” Steve Jackson, Qantas Group head of security, facilitation and resilience, said the airline had “extremely stringent” measures in places that were “more than enough” to stop someone hacking in. “The Qantas Group has extremely stringent security measures in place which are continually reviewed as part of normal business practice – these are measures that are more than enough to mitigate any attempt at remote interference with aircraft systems. “The Qantas Group complies with, and in many cases exceeds, all regulatory requirements and manufacturers’ recommendations when it comes to the safety and security of our fleet.” Budget airline Tigerair Australia does not have in-flight entertainment equipment, so the airline would not comment on the hacking specifically, but said they also had high standards of security. “Tigerair Australia has strict and comprehensive procedures in place to ensure the highest levels of safety and security in-flight are maintained at all times,” a spokeswoman said.

Mr Roberts admitted to investigators accessing plane computers systems more than a dozen times since 2011, accessing the systems by attaching an ethernet cable directly to the “Seat Electronic Box” that can be found under some seats, according to Wired Magazine. “That paragraph that’s in there is one paragraph out of a lot of discussions, so there is context that is obviously missing which obviously I can’t say anything about,” he said. “It would appear from what I’ve seen that the federal guys took one paragraph out of a lot of discussions and a lot of meetings and notes and just chose that one as opposed to plenty of others.” Following the media interest in the potential that a plane could be hacked in-flight, United Airlines last week launched a “bug bounty” programme offering up to a million free air-miles to so-called White Knight – friendly – hackers who could uncover weaknesses in their corporate computer systems. Washington: Penn State University, which develops sensitive technology for the US Navy, said on Fridaythat Chinese hackers have been sifting through the computers of its engineering school for more than two years. US engineering schools – Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the California Institute of Technology, Berkeley, Carnegie Mellon, and Johns Hopkins – have been among the top targets of Chinese hacking and other intelligence operations for many years.

These forays have been for both commercial and defence purposes, and universities have struggled to secure their computers against these advanced attacks. In addition to online activities, the Chinese have sent legions of graduate students to US schools and have tried to recruit students, faculty members and others at both universities and government research facilities, several recent law-enforcement investigations show. “There is an active threat and it is against not just Penn State but against many different organisations across the world, including higher education institutions,” said Nick Bennett, a senior manager at Mandiant, a security division of FireEye Inc., which aided the university in the investigation.

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