The FBI has charged a security researcher with hacking into the entertainment system of a United Airlines plane mid-flight and causing the aircraft to fly “sideways”.
The revelations are both a damning indictment of airline security and a sharp warning that the internet of things could cause more problems than it solves.
Information security researcher Chris Roberts allegedly told FBI special agent Mark Hurley that he not only hacked the in flight entertainment system but that he was also able to issue commands to the flight control computers.
By issuing a ‘CLB’ or climb command to one of the engines, he was able to increase its power output which in turn made the plane fly sideways, with nothing the pilots could do to control it.
Roberts was also able to intercept and monitor the cockpit communications systems.
In fact, he hacked the entertainment systems of both Airbus and Boeing aircraft roughly 15 to 20 times between 2011 and 2014.
Roberts had thirteen items, including thumb drives, a MacBook Pro laptop and an iPad Air were confiscated from him on April 15th, after he exited a United Airline flight in Syracuse, New York.
He now stands accused of admitting to tampering with and compromising the systems.
In response to the allegations, he stated on Twitter:
Over last 5 years my only interest has been to improve aircraft security…given the current situation I’ve been advised against saying much.
Sorry it’s so generic, but there’s a whole 5 years of stuff that the affidavit incorrectly compressed into 1 paragraph….lots to untangle