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Hijacking plane’s navigation system with Android, reality or unnecessary alarm?

By Pierluigi Paganini, Editor-in-Chief, CDM

April 16, 2013, 11:30 am EST

The news is sensational, to take control of a plane is not necessary a group of terrorists, a hacker with limited resource could take control on the entire control system, including plane navigation and cockpit systems according the researcher Hugo Teso.

Teso is a security consultant at  N.runs AG, Germany, with a passion for flying in fact he is also a commercial airline pilot, the expert demonstrated using an exploit framework (dubbed Simon) and an Android app is possible to remote control the plane. Teso issued the alarming declaration at The Box security conference in Amsterdam.


The researcher remarked that his application is a proof of concept developed to alert the Federal Aviation Administration, European Aviation Safety Administration and principal aircraft manufacturers, the risk of an attack is high and concrete and all these institutions are already working to fix the security holes, according Teso.


The magic is possible eavesdropping system’s communications over its 1MBps link and manipulating them injecting specially crafted data.

“You can use this system to modify approximately everything related to the navigation of the plane,”

According the revelation of Teso, what is really disturbing is that he could send navigation commands using radio signals to control system of planes using publicly available Flight Management System (FMS).

The Flight Management System is an exact copy of system on board of the plane and the researcher spent last 3 years discovering the flaws in the standard system installed on aircraft, Teso bought some FMS hardware on eBay and according to Forbes “was advertised as containing some or all of the same code as the systems in real planes”.

The hacks seems to be effective on 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 added.

Just a week after the announcement the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), the European Aviation Safety Administration (EASA) and Honeywell, which provides the vulnerable cockpit application, have denied the researcher.

FAA announced: “The described technique cannot engage or control the aircraft’s autopilot system using the FMS or prevent a pilot from overriding the autopilot.” “Does not pose a flight safety concern because it does not work on certified flight hardware.

Not wanting to go into the discussion on the Teso’s study, it is clear that a simulator sold on the Internet, despite is a reproduction of the system in production cannot represent a true copy of it. The technological component in every object around us has reached level never seen before; each application however complex may be affected by bugs that can be exploited by an attacker, it is therefore important to consider in a proper way the security requirements from the earliest stages of the development process.

(Source CDM & Security Affairs – Hacking)

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