Maybe the next 9/11 hijackers won’t need box-cutters.
A computer hacker with a history of breaking into passenger jet entertainment systems was once able to take over a jet’s steering controls and move the plane sideways while in flight, according to an FBI affidavit reported by Wired.com.
According to the report, security researcher Chris Roberts was removed from a Chicago to Syracuse, N.Y., flight in February after he published a Twitter post suggesting he could break into the plane’s in-flight entertainment system.
While he was being interviewed, Roberts told FBI agents that had used a laptop computer to access in-fight computer systems while aboard commercial flights up to 15 times between 2011 and 2014. He said that on one plane, a United flight he did not identify, he was able to interfere with the operation of an engine briefly.
“He stated that he thereby caused one of the airplane engines to climb resulting in a lateral or sideways movement of the plane during one of these flights,” an FBI agent wrote in an application for a search warrant for Roberts’ computers.
According to Wired, Roberts was able to enter the planes’ computer systems on his laptop computer through electronic portals that are accessible on the aisle rows of some models of aircraft. Using default passwords, he would get access to the flights’ entertainment system, then to other systems on the planes.
Roberts, a cybersecurity expert with the security firm One World Labs, claims his hacking will ultimately make aviation safer.
According to Wired, some security experts doubt Roberts story – he might have simply thought he was responsible for plane movements that were actually under the pilots’ control. But even the possibility that a passenger aboard an in-flight airline could be tampering with the plane’s computer steering was unnerving.
“I find it really hard to believe but if that is the case he deserves going to jail,” wrote Jaime Blasco, director of the cybersecurity firm AlienVault Labs, wrote in a Twitter post.
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