U.S. officials warn airplane hackers could tamper with flight controls

By Nicholas Sakelaris

July 30 (UPI) -- U.S. security officials issued a warning Tuesday that small airplanes are also vulnerable to hacking, and the openings might allow criminals to alter key instrument readings to produce false data in flight.

The Homeland Security Department's Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency issued a report that recommends aircraft owners restrict physical access to the planes and that aircraft manufacturers review the implementation of Controller Area Network bus systems.


Government experts said in the report, however, such hacking could not be done remotely.

"An attacker with physical access to the aircraft could attach a device to [flight equipment] that could be used to inject false data, resulting in incorrect readings in avionics equipment," the report states.

The agency said that type of hack, though, could affect everything from engine telemetry readings, compass and altitude, speed and angle of attack -- all of which are critical flight elements that could lead to catastrophic failure. A pilot relying on instrument readings would not be able to tell between false and true instrument readings.

One recommendation the department makes is to follow advances by automakers.

"The automotive industry has made advancements in implementing safeguards that hinder similar physical attacks," it said. "[Those safeguards] should be evaluated by aircraft manufacturers."


Expert Patrick Kiley said aviation technology now lags behind other technologies and part of the overall problem is a false sense of security due to the face most airplanes are stored in secure locations.

"While physical restrictions are great, we really feel like avionics, in particular, need to implement defense in-depth," he said.

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