Aug 052014
General Electric GEnx jet engine is social media enabled

One of the great concerns about the internet of things is what happens when older computer technology that was never designed to be connected to the net is exposed to the online world.

A presentation to the Black Hat Conference in Las Vegas this Thursday by researcher Ruben Santamarta promises to show some of the vulnerabilities in aircraft avionic systems.

Today’s aircraft are extremely smart devices with the downsides shown in the tragedy of AF447 where an Air France jet plunged into the Atlantic Ocean when two undertrained pilots didn’t understand what their plane was doing as it encountered severe ice conditions in a storm.

With aircrew increasingly dependent upon computers to help them fly planes, the risks of bugs or security weaknesses in aircraft systems is a serious issue and with the continued mystery of MH370’s fate adds an element of speculation that a glitch of some form was responsible for its disappearance.

It wouldn’t be the first time a passenger plane came to grief because of a computer error; most notably Air New Zealand flight 901 crashed into Antarctica’s Mount Erebus during a 1979 sightseeing trip due to wrong information being loaded into the navigation system.

The internet adds numerous risk factors to aircraft – Santamarta’s hack allegedly works through in plane WiFi systems – particularly given these avionics systems haven’t been designed to deal with unauthorised access into their networks.

Should Santamarta’s demonstration prove feasible, it will be an important warning to the aviation industry and the broader Internet of Things community that security is a pressing issue in a world where critical equipment is connected.

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