A presentation at the Hack In The Box security summit in Amsterdam has demonstrated that it’s possible to take control of aircraft flight systems and communications using an Android smartphone and some specialized attack code.
Hugo Teso, a security researcher at N.Runs and a commercial airline pilot, spent three years developing the code, buying second-hand commercial flight system software and hardware online and finding vulnerabilities within it. His presentation will cause a few sleepless nights among those with an interest in aircraft security.
Teso’s attack code, dubbed SIMON, along with an Android app called PlaneSploit, can take full control of flight systems and the pilot’s displays. The hacked aircraft could even be controlled using a smartphone’s accelerometer to vary its course and speed by moving the handset about.
“You can use this system to modify approximately everything related to the navigation of the plane,” Teso told Forbes. “That includes a lot of nasty things.”
First, Teso looked at the Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast (ADS-B) system that updates ground controllers on an aircraft’s position over a 1Mb/s data link. This has no security at all, he found, and could be used to passively eavesdrop on an aircraft’s communications and also actively interrupt broadcasts or feed in misinformation.
Also vulnerable is the Aircraft Communications Addressing and Reporting System (ACARS), the communication relay used between pilots and ground controllers. Using a Samsung Galaxy handset, he demonstrated how to use ACARS to redirect an aircraft’s navigation systems to different map coordinates.