Are plane systems not even safe from hackers? Did security researcher Chris Roberts hack a plane? FBI reports suggest so. (via FBI & Wired)
There was a time back in the early days of the internet when hackers could only attack computers systems. Now, these cyber criminals are finding more platforms for their targets – everything is a system: cars, pacemakers, baby monitors, cameras, and now planes. Chris Roberts, a security researcher for One World Labs, put airlines on alert when he sent out the following tweet from a United Airlines flight on April 15:
"Find myself on a 737/800, lets see Box-IFE-ICE-SATCOM, ? Shall we start playing with EICAS messages? "PASS OXYGEN ON" Anyone ? :)"
The tweet (via Twitter)
This tweet suggested Roberts could tamper with passenger oxygen masks from his seat. Roberts claim the tweet was meant as a joke and a reference to how he's tried to get Boeing and Airbus to become aware of the security issues with their passenger communication systems. But as many companies have learned in the past, jokes of this nature don't go over so well on Twitter. Shortly after, an employee of the United Airlines' Cyber Security Intelligence Depart became aware of the tweet and contacted the FBI, who were waiting for Roberts when the plane landed. He was then questioned by FBI agents and had his laptop and other electronics taken away. The FBI and TSA then issued a joint alert to airlines to look out for network intrusions.
Roberts denies he did anything wrong. He claims he never connected his laptop to any Seat Electronic Box (SEB) on the flight, which would allow him to access the plane's networks and possibly, control systems. But the FBI has a different story. When agents checked under the seats where Roberts was sitting, they noticed the SEBs showed signs of tampering. According to the affidavit, Roberts was sitting in seat 3A and the SEB under 2A, the seat in front of him, “was damaged.” Though Roberts has yet to be charged with a crime, a search warrant submitted by the FBI shows his past hacking history. Investigators were told, by Roberts himself, that he comprised in-flight entertainment systems (IFE) about 15-20 times between 2011 and 2014.
In response to the claim he tampered with the SEB, Roberts told Wired magazine “Those boxes are underneath the seats. How many people shove luggage and all sorts of things under there? I’d be interested if they looked at the boxes under all the other seats and if they looked like they had been tampered.”
To reassure passengers, Boeing released a statement to CNET saying its planes' IFE systems are separate from the planes' more critical ones. Since this incident, investors on the board of directors of One World Labs have withdrawn their investments in the company. It is unknown if this scandal has anything to do it with it.
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