Feds Warn Airlines About Potential Hacks to Flight Systems | NBC Chicago

Feds Warn Airlines About Potential Hacks to Flight Systems

NBC 5 Investigates last year first reported about the possible flaw in the in-flight entertainment system that allows some planes to be hacked

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    Federal authorities this week issued an alert to airlines warning them to be extra vigilant about protecting their systems from tampering and intrusions. NBC Chicago's Tammy Leitner investigates. (Published Thursday, April 23, 2015)

    Federal authorities this week issued an alert to airlines warning them to be extra vigilant about protecting their systems from tampering and intrusions. 

    The alert from the TSA and the FBI was sent privately to airlines just days after a security researcher claimed to have hacked into a United Airlines flight, Wired reported Tuesday.

    "I did not think it would create quite the controversy that it has done," the researcher, Chris Roberts, told NBC News. 

    Roberts was on board a United Airlines flight on April 15 when he posted a Tweet joking about accessing the plane’s computer and oxygen masks.

     

    He was pulled from the flight by the FBI. Other tweets he sent seem to show actual airline data pages. United Airlines last weekend banned him from flying.

    "It is definitely possible with the research we’ve done and others have done to manipulate the electronics through in-flight entertainment system and satellite communications," said Roberts.

    NBC 5 Investigates last year first reported about the possible flaw in the in-flight entertainment system that allows some planes to be hacked.

    "We can disrupt satellite communications, potentially modify the data that goes through those channels," said Spanish Cyber Researcher Ruben Santamarta during a 2014 interview in Las Vegas.

    Santamarta showed exactly how a plane could be hacked.

    "At this point all those vulnerabilities are really dangerous so they need to change the way they are implementing these devices," he explained.

    With the federal alert, it appears authorities are following that advice. Just last week a government watchdog group warned that cockpit computers and air traffic control systems could be vulnerable.

    "What we found was the potential for risk," Gerald Dillingham, the Director of Civil Aviation for the Government Accountability Office, told NBC Chicago.

    Gerald Dillingham was one of the authors on the report and warned that the FAA needs to do more to protect airline passengers.

    "The Federal Aviation Administration, as in many countries around the world, are switching from a point-to-point, more traditional way of controlling aircraft, to a more Internet-based way of controlling air traffic," he said. "And as a part of that, the aircraft becomes a node in the Internet, and as we all know there’s always the possibility of hacking not only the aircraft but all of the other systems that are going to be in the national airspace system."

    The FAA said it was unaware of any successful attacks.

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