Hacker Warns That Passenger Jets Are At Risk From Cyber Attacks

A cyber security expert is warning that passenger jets are at risk of being compromised by hackers entering through their in-flight WiFi and entertainment systems, Slash Gear is reporting.

Ruben Santamarta, a Berlin-based tech consultant with IOActive, will be releasing his findings later this week at Black Hat, an annual hacking conference in Las Vegas, according to Daily Mail. Some of his claims were published earlier this year in a paper exposing vulnerabilities in the firmware used by airlines in their entertainment and WiFi systems.

According to Santamarta’s research, it’s theoretically possible for a hacker – or a terrorist – to break into the plane’s entertainment or WiFi system and use that as a back door for accessing its avionics or communications systems.

“These devices are wide open. The goal of [my upcoming presentation] is to help change that situation.”

The systems are produced by such companies as EchoStar, Japan Radio, and Harris Corp, according to Slash Gear. Santamarta says that he “reverse-engineered” – that is, broke into the internal code – of several devices.

His hacks have only been achieved in controlled environments – namely, IOActive’s labs in Madrid, and Ruben concedes that they not be repeatable in the real world. Santamarta made his findings available to the manufacturers of the equipment he tested. Reports state that most of those manufacturers have downplayed his concerns. Jim Burke, spokesperson for Harris Corp, reviewed Santamarta’s research and told the Daily Mail:

‘We concluded that the risk of compromise is very small.”

Similarly, Greg Caires, spokesperson for Cobham (a manufacturer of satellite communications technology used in passenger jets), told Business Insider that an attack targeting navigation equipment is not possible:

“In the aviation and maritime markets we serve, there are strict requirements restricting such access to authorized personnel only.”

Cybersecurity – that is, the practice of protecting computers and their data from unwanted users – has become a major issue of late, and a thorn in the side for several companies. Several companies have experienced data breaches this year, leading to customers’ money and financial data being compromised; most notably, Target (see this Inquisitr article).

Currently, the idea of terrorists (as opposed to thieves or political activists, such as Anonymous) using cyber attacks is mostly theoretical but experts warn the danger is very real. For example, many experts believe the U.S. power grid is at risk from a cyber attack by terrorists (see this Inquisitr article).

Does the possibility of a hacker launching a cyber attack against a passenger jet make you think twice about flying again? Let us know what you think in the Comments.

Image courtesy of: Business Insider

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