Report: Hackers Could Target Airliners

Computer crime concept

We've heard warnings about hackers trying to get into everything from tax returns to your car, but their latest target might be even bigger...and higher.  Department of Homeland Security experts are warning about the possibility of hackers breaching a commercial airliner, according to documents obtained by the website Motherboard.  They cite DHS representatives saying it is "only a matter of time" before hackers crack an airliner, leading to the possibility of a "catastrophic disaster."

Chris Bronk, cyber expert and professor at the University of Houston, tells KTRH a cyber breach of aircraft is definitely possible.  "Anything computerized...your car, your toaster, my dryer and washer, whatever...if it's got a computer in it, you can manipulate it," he says.  "Manufacturers have developed aircraft that use fly-by-wire technology and computer driven flight control systems, and those computers are now increasingly networked, and that's the problem."

As part of their report, DHS experts cited a 2016 experiment in which members of a DHS security team claimed to have successfully hacked into the systems of a Boeing 757.  Boeing disputed those findings, saying it observed the test and believes it "did not identify any cyber vulnerabilities in the 757, or any other Boeing aircraft."

Nevertheless, Bronk knows other examples of cyber breaches of aircraft, although not necessarily done remotely.  "We've seen people in the security community sit down on an airplane and gain access to engine and/or control systems," he says.

As for a solution, DHS says it is working with "researchers and vendors to identify and mitigate vulnerabilities in the aviation sector."

Bronk believes a surefire security solution may still be a ways off.  "It's going to take us probably a couple decades of engineering to reverse these problems," he says.

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