Imagine this: you’ve fallen asleep on a plane headed to your dream vacation when suddenly erratic flight movement stirs you awake. The cabin is chaotic, and what’s even worse, in the cockpit the pilot has no idea what is happening. All systems have been overridden, and – although the pilot doesn’t know it – someone is controlling the plane from within the cabin.
Hacker Hugo Teso demonstrated he could do just that at a recent conference in Amsterdam. Using a smartphone app called PlaneSploit, Teso showed he could essentially turn a commercial aircraft into a remote control toy. He had the ability to redirect a flight, activate a plane’s alarms and dash lights, and even crash a jet – and he did it all remotely with the touch of a few buttons.
He claims to be able to take control by intercepting and repurposing the data the go to the flight systems.
The demonstration points out weaknesses and lack of security in several plane systems, including the automatic dependent surveillance-broadcast, which is crucial in the radar tracking of planes, as well as the text system used to communicate between aircraft and ground control. It’s a scary thought, but luckily Teso has no plans to make the app available for download. Furthermore, just because he was able to get access to the communications, it doesn’t mean he could necessarily crash the aircraft. Our own resident pilot, Kent Wien, says:
“The idea that someone can gain modify the FMS (flight management system) on an airliner is pretty far fetched. The FAA claims that there’s no way this person could gain access to an FMS in this way.
Setting that aside, if our FMS, which is similar to a GPS in a car, were modified inflight it wouldn’t go un-noticed by the pilots. And once discovered, a simple change in autopilot mode would result in the airplane flying to wherever the pilots wanted it to go. Not to mention the even more simple move-clicking off the autopilot. I’d love to hear his presentation about how he can access an FMS, but it’s not like he’s able to take over control of the airplane through that box.”
[Photo credit: Flickr user hugokernel]