Can a Hacker Take Over Control of a Plane?

A cyber-security consultant by the name of Chris Roberts says he could have taken over the controls on a United Airlines flight from Denver to Chicago but didn’t. Apparently “Roberts had posted tweets in the past about hacking into the plane he was traveling on and possibly activating the emergency passenger oxygen masks.” It would appear that Roberts might have tampered with electronic control boxes under his seat and the seat in front of him connecting to in-flight entertainment systems to do his hacking. But Boeing quickly commented that these systems are isolated from flight and navigation systems.

Roberts claims to have done this 15 to 20 times between 2011 and 2014, and FBI experts think he both had the ability and equipment to get into the planes’ flight control systems. He alleges that he “caused one of the airplane engines to climb resulting in a lateral or sideways movement of the plane during one of these flights.” Roberts says he used a modified Ethernet cable to connect his laptop to the entertainment flight system electronic control boxes under his seat. The point here is that, if Roberts can do it, terrorists can do it, and it’s a given they won’t just wave the wings around for show and tell. The plane will end up smashing into a building, or the side of a mountain or at the bottom of the ocean.

Computer security experts have been warning of this possibility for years but, as usual, the business community refuses to act until an incident such as this forces them to, and on many occasions the delays have resulted in death. Unfortunately, it all continues to stem from the bottom line.

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