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FBI warning over plane Wi-Fi hacking risk

Following the news that the FBI has today issued an alert to airlines to look for evidence of passengers attempting to use on-board Wi-Fi networks to access the plane's controls, Andrey Nikishin, head of Future Technology Projects at Kaspersky Lab has offered the following comment:

“The fact that the FBI has issued an alert to airlines over Wi-Fi hacking is a stark warning of the emerging risks we face as the world we live in becomes increasingly connected. However, it’s important that such warnings are not taken too literally, as currently such threats are purely theoretical.

“It’s easy to assume that an intruder with a laptop can easily seize full control of a plane. However, in reality, it’s not that simple. In a modern passenger plane, the AFDX network (which transmits the avionics data used to control the plane), is isolated from the passenger network by a firewall.

"However, in theory, an attacker might succeed in influencing the data coming from the health monitor, navigation or weather report systems. While this would require familiarity with the relevant protocols and an understanding of the data formats involved, it’s possible.

“Although we may not yet have seen any evidence of attackers taking control of airlines by hacking Wi-Fi networks, today’s warning should serve as a wake-up call for the aviation industry. It is high time to bring the communication protocols used in aviation up-to-date and in line with today’s realities.

"Clearly, upgrading planes will be expensive – but new systems can and should be designed to meet not just today’s, but tomorrow’s security needs and requirements."