Hacker Demonstrates Ability To Hijack Plane Using Smartphone

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.”

[via Phandroid]

[Photo credit: Flickr user hugokernel]

Hotels top target for hackers

According to online security trade publication DarkReading.com, hackers went after the hotel sector more than any other in 2009. And, they didn’t get caught: it took hotels an average of 156 days to discover a security breach. A study by Trustwave’s SpiderLabs of 218 security breach investigations in 24 countries found that 38 percent hit the hospitality industry, 19 percent for financial services, 14 percent for retailers and 13 percent for food and beverage.

So, why are hackers poking around in hotel systems? Credit cards!

Hackers are looking for payment information that they can steal and use elsewhere. This information that can be converted to cash quickly, says Trustwave SpiderLabs executive Nicholas Percoco. Other sensitive information wasn’t nearly as popular, with the likes of financial, authentication and healthcare information good for only 1 percent of what was stolen.

Best Western (Europe) becomes the victim of the largest data theft in the world (UPDATED)

The European operation of the Best Western hotel chain has become the victim of a massive cyber-theft attack. By placing a “keylogger” on a corporate computer connected to their reservations system, a whopping 8 million customer records were stolen. Included in the records are names, address, phone number, credit card numbers and employment information.

The records were stored for every single customer who stayed at one of 1300 European Best Western hotels since 2007. The Sunday Herald reports that the theft was carried out by an Indian hacker, who then put the information up for sale on an underground web site, operated by the Russian Mafia. The entire story sound like it was copied right out of a spy novel.

The whole thing is extremely embarrassing for Best Western, who have handed control of their European computer operations over to their American colleagues. According to a UK based Best Western spokesperson, the company is “taking appropriate action”. Of course, none of this will be of any use to people who have lost their information, and credit card companies might have no other option than to issue millions of new cards to victims of this theft.

If you stayed at a Best Western hotel in Europe in the past year, you may want to contact your credit card provider, and keep a close eye out for trasnactions you did not approve.

Source: Sunday Herald (via Slashdot), Image from Flickr.

UPDATE: Best Western have conducted an internal investigation and “found no evidence of 8 million stolen records” (PDF file). I’m sure time will tell whether this was all all elaborate hoax by an amateur hacker.

Hack your local subway

Frequent travelers on any metropolitan subway system know that the two major means for fare tracking and billing are via magnetic strip and Radio Frequency Identification (RFID). And every nerd and his RPG character know that those systems can be both readable and exploitable.

To see how secure the Boston subway system was, several MIT students decided to run an analysis on the security of the infrastructure; what they found was a little disturbing. By simply wandering into unlocked doors, opening unlocked cabinets and peering around they were able to find keys to the system, get access to network hardware and find and copy employee identification.

On looking into the security of the magnetic and RFID systems, they were able to reverse engineer the code on the magnetic stripes and reconfigure the data to post $653 to a subway card. Similarly, the group analyzed the RFID contents and were able to disassemble the code.

The students point out that numerous transportation systems around the globe use these systems and technology.

Naturally, all of this quite illegal — the students were just illustrating a point to the MBTA that there are security vulnerabilities in the system that can fairly easily be exploited. Hopefully, they and the company that makes subway infrastructures perks up and makes some serious security changes as a result of this reserach.

Check out the full 87 page presentation on the execution hosted at MIT.