FBI: Guy Hacked Plane's In-Flight Network, Made It Fly Sideways

Chris Roberts says he's been warning of vulnerabilities for years
By Polly Davis Doig,  Newser Staff
Posted May 17, 2015 1:05 PM CDT
Chris Roberts told the FBI that he hacked an airplane via its in-flight entertainment system, and made it fly sideways.   (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

(Newser) – The FBI's new best friend is Chris Roberts, a man variously described as a computer security expert and hacker, who made headlines last month after United Airlines booted him from a flight over a tweet. Roberts, the founder of One World Labs, has been interviewed by the FBI at least three times this year, and as APTN News reports, during one of those conversations in February, told an agent that he'd briefly hacked control of an airplane via its in-flight entertainment. Per the FBI search warrant application, via Wired: "He stated that he thereby caused one of the airplane engines to climb resulting in a lateral or sideways movement of the plane during one of these flights. He also stated that he used Vortex software after comprising/exploiting or ‘hacking’ the airplane’s networks. He used the software to monitor traffic from the cockpit system."

Roberts' alleged method is disturbingly simple: Vulnerable planes had Seat Electronic Boxes, installed under seats two to a row. Roberts removed the cover, and as Wired puts it: "attached a Cat6 ethernet cable, with a modified connector, to the box and to his laptop and then used default IDs and passwords to gain access." Once there, he was able to access other systems. Roberts further told agents that he'd accessed in-flight networks on various flights about 15 times and that he was able "to monitor traffic from the cockpit system." He identified Boeing 737-800s, 737-900s, and 757-200s, and Airbus A-320s as vulnerable. Roberts tells Wired: "I’m obviously concerned those (conversations) were held behind closed doors and apparently they’re no longer behind closed doors."

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