It is a terrifying prospect, a hack that allows an attacker to take control of plane navigation and cockpit systems has been revealed at a security conference in Europe.
This was demonstrated by Hugo Teso, a researcher at security consultancy N.Runs in Germany who's also a commercial airline pilot. He explained that by building an exploit framework called Simon and a complimentary Android app that delivers attack messages, he could manipulate a plane's path as he saw fit.
“You can use this system to modify approximately everything related to the navigation of the plane,” Teso told reporters. Teso found he was able to eavesdrop on the system's communications over its 1MBps link, as well as blocking information and injecting data into link.
It took three years of hunting down holes in standard systems to work out how he could use radio signals to send his own navigation commands to a plane's control system, using publicly available Flight Management System (FMS) hardware and software which mirror the code onboard real planes.
The results of Teso's hard work are terrifying. The hack targets two technologies, Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast (ADS-B) and Aircraft Communications Addressing and Report System (ACARS).
"I expected them to have security issues but I did not expect them to be so easy to spot. I thought I would have to fight hard to get into them but it was not that difficult," Teso said.
He stressed his app was merely a proof of concept, intended to alert aircraft manufacturers to the security loopholes. He claimed the Federal Aviation Administration and the European Aviation Safety Administration were already working on fixing the vulnerability.