A cyber security researcher claims to have found a method of hacking into satellite communication systems of passenger planes. Ruben Santamarta, a consultant with IOactive, is scheduled to reveal the details of his discovery at the Black Hat conference in Las Vegas this week. If he is right, it could spur a complete review of aircraft security.
The hack would allow attackers to use a plane’s onboard entertainment system or WiFi signal to gain access to avionics. Which could potentially used for disrupting navigation; although this means that the hacker would have to be onboard the plane in order to perpetrate the attack.
Santamarta also admitted that his research was conducted in a controlled environment, and he is unsure if it will be applicable in the real world. Representatives of Cobham Plc, Harris Corp, EchoStar Corp’s Hughes Network Systems, Iridium Communications Inc and Japan Radio Co Ltd – manufacturers of the affected systems – have verified some of the work, but were keen on downplaying the risks involved.
Cobham explained that an individual would need physical access to the hardware to gain full control of the satellite communications. The manufacturer claims that it is just not possible to interfere with critical systems through WiFi. Other affected manufacturers were not as forthcoming with their dismissals of the vulnerability claims; especially Japan Radio who declined to comment on the grounds that the details of the hack are not yet public. Santamarta, however, intends for his work to raise awareness about how open in-flight systems are and spur the aviation industry to change it.