It’s like a wet dream for any driver. While all the others enjoy the stop and go rush hour traffic you’re changing into air-mode, pull ahead and cock a snook at the earthbound drivers. Let’s talk about the new and very conceptional car “Pop.Up”. Airbus and the Italian service provider ItalDesign introduced Pop.Up at the Geneva […]
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At the height of the summer season, the shutdown is upsetting the travel plans of thousands of tourists. United Airlines flies to 235 airports within the US, making one out of every six commercial flights in the country. The shutdown was attributed to “automation information” issues.
Earlier this year something similar had happend to United Airlines already. Back then a passenger, the founder and CTO of the tech firm Cloudstitch, tweeted that his pilot told passengers that the grounding was due to a possible hack of United’s computer network and the flight plan-delivery protocol used by every airline.
What happened yesterday reminds of the May 31 issue of the Polish LOT airline in Warsaw – and the above mentioned earlier hack of the United Airlines system in the US. In the Polish attack, hackers caused the airline’s ground computer systems to issue bogus flight plans.
Just hours later the New York Stock Exchange ran into similar problems. “I have spoken to the CEO of United, Jeff Smisek, myself. It appears from what we know at this stage that the malfunctions at United and the stock exchange were not the result of any nefarious actor,” U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson says.
But even if no hackers were involved it definitely is a wakeup call: If something like that happens without any involvement of cybercriminals, how much worse would it be once one of them actually manages to screw around with all the tech?
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The hack happened in the afternoon and targeted the Polish flag carrier LOT. According to a report from Reuters “hackers attacked the airline ground computer systems used to issue flight plans”. The whole situation was resolved a few hours later. Nonetheless 10 national and international flights had to be canceled and even more were delayed. Luckily none of the planes or the airport itself were affected and no one got hurt. LOT took extra care to mention “that it has no influence on plane systems. Aircrafts, that are already airborne will continue their flights. Planes with flight plans already filed will return to Warsaw normally.”
The airline also made it clear that the airport itself was not affected. Once the ‘problem’ was fixed LOT issued the following press release. “The situation after the IT attack on our ground operation system is already under control. We are working on restoring the regularity as soon as possible. Our operating center is already preparing flight plans. We will try to ensure that the largest number of passengers are informed and continue commenced journeys.”
Spokesman Kubicki said that LOT is using state-of-the-art computer systems, so this could potentially be a threat to others in the industry as well.
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A number of leading publications jumped on the report and within hours, it had become a viral sensation.
Like most, when I first saw the article I had a brief moment of serious concern, especially as I travel frequently on business. On further consideration, I decided to investigate further as there is extensive regulation and compliance in the aircraft industry.
We have seen many industries struggle with security as more services move to digital and connect to the Internet of Things. One example is the medical industry where devices handle sensitive data. This article in The Atlantic gives a great summary of the points.
So based on what we’ve seen in other industries, would a vulnerability on an aircraft seem farfetched? Probably not.
However, as I mentioned, aviation is a highly regulated industry with security standards and safety at its core. It would therefore surprise me if someone left the backdoor open and the aircraft’s avionics were accessible through the Wi-Fi.
The following diagram is probably what made this report go viral.
The government report and its diagram may be highlighting an area of concern but according to Dr Phil Polstra, as stated in a Forbes article ‘The GAO report was put together by people who didn’t understand how modern aircraft actually work’.
Based on Dr Polstra’s comments and his credibility as an expert in this area I think we can rest assured that the frightening nature of the article that went viral is a false alarm. The real risk here is someone publishing a report when they may not have fully understood the subject matter.
I will be getting on a plane soon and will not be concerned that the person in the seat next to me might be hacking the flight system. However, if they could adjust the temperature and lighting around my seat, that would be useful.
Follow me on twitter @tonyatavg
Title image courtesy of ArsTechnica