[Of interest for 911. If someone can do this with a phone then the US could have done this with the 911 planes.]
By Daniel Bates
It is a terrifying prospect – a would-be hijacker seizes control of a plane from the ground armed with nothing more than a smartphone.
But such a scenario could come to pass, according to an internet security consultant.
He says he has created an app that can take over a plane’s computers, giving the phone and its user total control of the aircraft.
Hugo Teso, 30, who is also a trained commercial pilot, claims he can make an airliner ‘dance to his tune’ by using the technology – which would not be picked up by security checks.
Hugo Teso demonstrated his aircraft hacking system at a conference in Amsterdam - but says it is simply a 'proof of concept'
In a simulation he was able to do everything from change the air-conditioning settings to feed false navigational information to a jet, making it change course. Aviation agencies in Europe and the US are now keen to interview Mr Teso about his PlaneSploit app.
Speaking at the Hack In The Box Conference in Amsterdam, he said that after four years of research he was able to subvert the flight management systems (FMS) found on most aircraft.
To test the technology, Mr Teso built a simulator from spare plane parts he bought on eBay, which ran on many of the systems that are used on commercial aircraft.
According to Help Net Security, the system works by infiltrating radio broadcasts between aircraft and air traffic control, and then using a second communication system to send malicious messages that could ‘take full control of the plane’ or indirectly affect the pilot’s behaviour by making cockpit lights flash, for instance.
Mr Teso said that it was just a ‘proof of concept’ and that it would not necessarily interfere with real flight systems.
But in a demonstration he showed that he was
able to do everything from change the air-conditioning systems to attack the FMS
of the simulated aircraft whilst it was ‘in flight’.
Some of the messages Teso claims his system can see and control
The app, called PlaneSploit, was able to take over the plane's systems and let a passenger with a smartphone control them
He showed the audience a screen grab from his smartphone which showed a flight-deck style display with a range of buttons on it.
The functions he showed off included a button marked ‘please go here’ which allowed him to change the course of the plane.
Another was ‘visit ground’, which was to crash the plane. He was also able to make a light flash in the cockpit to make the pilot think something was seriously wrong.
Mr Teso said the technology only works when the autopilot is on and the pilot can regain control by flying the plane manually.
He explained it could work via a 3G or wireless connection, but would have to be near enough to the antenna sending the signals to the planes. He said the app could work with a range of around 100miles and possibly as high as 30,000ft – the cruising altitude of many passenger planes.
Mr Teso, who works for internet security company n.runs AG, said that there was little chance that terrorists or others with malicious intent would work out what he did.
He said: ‘You would have to have solid
knowledge of aviation and its protocols.’