The security of airline systems from hackers is among the most arcane aviation safety issues. At the same time, providing an inviolate firewall between the onboard systems and potentially nefarious cyberpunks is critical to the future of this industry. The below two articles seem to contradict each other, one suggesting that Mr. Roberts hacked a plane’s systems and the other indicating that airlines are “skeptical” to such interventions by third parties. The FAA, TSA and all other federal authorities on this subject must provide a definitive answer to this possible hole in the security wall.
The FBI in an affidavit seeking to inspect Mr. Roberts’ computer alleged that the professional computer expert admitted to having gained access to 15 to 20 IFEs, of both Panasonic and Thales brands, between 2011 and 2014. The FBI document also avers that Roberts plugged his computer to the IFE of the plane on which he was a passenger. Roberts further stated that once connected to the plane’s system, he was able to enter the cockpit’s Thrust Management Computer and “successfully commanded the system he had accessed to issue the “CLB’ or climb command. That is very disturbing, to say the least.
Hopefully when the subpoena is granted, the FBI will be able to disprove the claim. If the Roberts’ hacking did happen, then it will be incumbent on the government and the manufacturers to IMMEDIATELY find a solution.
The second article, found in THE AGE, ITPro.com, states that the Civil Aviation Safety Authority, an Australian aviation safety government agency, said the prospect of remotely controlling a plane was “unrealistic.” Its representative is quoted as saying:
“I’ve never heard of anything like this in Australia… Frankly the story seems a little unrealistic, but without comprehensive checking [it is] hard to say.”
That is hardly a convincing statement to the contrary.
The professionals who are involved in aviation safety have a deep and demanding backlog of critical issues to be resolved. An infallible answer to Mr. Roberts should go to the #1 position on that priorities list if the FBI confirms his allegations.