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Android App Hackers Reach for the Sky

By - Source: Engadget | B 7 comments

Security consultant Hugo Teso shows that hackers can control airliners... from their phones.

During the 'Hack in the Box' conference in rainy Amsterdam, a security consultant and commercial pilot Hugo Teso showcased an Android App he developed himself that can hack an airliner simulator and theoretically, your next flight. 

While we can tell you with a sigh of relief that this app will not be available on Google Play any time soon (or ever), the app itself shows critical weaknesses in security protocols and electronic infrastructure when it comes to commercial aviation. The App, called PlaneSploit, can hone in on its targets from the ground by hijacking radio communications between aircraft and ATC (air traffic control), and use a parallel uplink to infiltrate the flight management system.

As most modern planes use fly-by-wire technology (in essence meaning that all tension cables and hydraulic fuel lines are replaced by servos and stepper motors and controlled through software), the app would easily be able to take over the avionics of an aircraft, and make it do whatever it pleases. It could even morph information that is fed towards the pilots and mislead them into making errors or serious oversights (imagine an empty fuel tank over the Pacific Ocean).

The app has made very clear that, although airplanes have evolved into flying computers, their security is still largely flawed. While immediate action is being taken by flight management manufacturers to improve security, we hope that the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) and NTSB (National Transportation Safety Board) won't start banning smart phones on their flights as well.

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  • 6 Hide
    Spooderman , April 14, 2013 9:57 AM
    Woah, this is some serious stuff. What's to stop terrorists and really stupid hackers from developing or releasing this technology? The Aviation industry better start fixing things FAST.
  • 2 Hide
    bak0n , April 14, 2013 10:36 AM
    Wonder what the range is. Would you have to be on board the aircraft to hack or would it be accessible through the FAA's net? If its close proximity then it'd be much less concerning to me. Although, hackers are always known to be the brightest with logical decision making (oh, let me crash this airplane I'm in to see if I can do it!).
  • 1 Hide
    house70 , April 14, 2013 10:51 AM
    There has already been a blog written by an actual pilot that pretty much debunks this. This stuff is NOT really serious; it would theoretically work under ideal condition on a simulator, but not so on a plane. People need to take a chill pill.
  • 1 Hide
    Gundam288 , April 14, 2013 11:50 AM
    Just a few days AFTER I flew in a aircraft they put this on toms. Talk about being grateful considering I was reading toms before the flight at the terminal while waiting for my flight. O_O
  • -2 Hide
    lightbulbsocket , April 14, 2013 11:50 AM
    I wouldn't be quite so quick to dismiss this idea. I think though that as scary as the idea of someone electronically hijacking a plane is, I'm far more concerned about someone applying the same concept to cars. I suspect it's far easier and far more likely. It'll be quite some time before someone convinces me to buy a car with drive by wire tech inside of it.
  • -2 Hide
    JOSHSKORN , April 14, 2013 3:30 PM
    al Qaeda will get a hold of this in no time and we'll have 9/11 all over again. They'd BETTER fix this fast.
  • 1 Hide
    happyballz , April 15, 2013 8:18 AM
    Complete BS. Anyone who knows at least a little about airplanes know that these systems are not connected. Radio is a separate piece of equipment from flight control hardware.
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