Researcher takes controls of aircraft system with Android phone

Researcher takes controls of aircraft system with Android phone

Summary: A European security researcher claims to have developed a hack that allowed him to take control of aviation navigation systems using an Android phone.

TOPICS: Security

A hack that allows an attacker to take control of plane navigation and cockpit systems has been revealed at a security conference in Europe.

The exploit allowed security researcher Hugo Teso to use a Samsung Galaxy mobile phone to take control of flight and cockpit display systems running on the ground. The hack would allow him to change a plane's course and speed using the phone's accelerometer, he told the Hack In The Box Conference in Amsterdam yesterday.

He told Forbes he was able to use the exploit "to modify approximately everything related to the navigation of the plane".

Read this

10 security stories that shaped 2012

10 security stories that shaped 2012

From a major malware attack on the Mac OS X to state-sponsored cyber-espionage attacks, IT security in 2012 will be remembered as the year that piqued the imagination.

Teso was able to compromise various onboard flight and communications systems running on second hand aircraft computer hardware.

He uploaded data to a Flight Management System, over the Aircraft Communications Addressing and Reporting System (ACARS), the communication relay used between pilots and ground controllers, which he says is largely unsecured.

It was by manipulating the Flight Management System that Teso said he was able to both change the cockpit display and change the direction, altitude and speed of the aircraft.

The researcher was also able to compromise the Automatic Dependent Surveillance Broadcast (ADS-B) system that relays an aircraft's position to ground controllers. Teso found he was able to eavesdrop on the system's communications over its 1MBps link, as well as blocking information and injecting data into link.

He claims the Federal Aviation Administration and the European Aviation Safety Administration are working on fixing the vulnerability.

Topic: Security


Nick Heath is chief reporter for TechRepublic UK. He writes about the technology that IT-decision makers need to know about, and the latest happenings in the European tech scene.

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.


Log in or register to join the discussion
  • For the Mother-in-law

    Now she can be a back seat driver on the plane to Malaga as well.
    Alan Smithie
    • I told the major air carriers to stop using Windows. :-)

      • They did. The systems run on Linux

        So all joking aside, how's that working out for you/them...

        William Farrel
        • You two...

          ...don't talk nonsense...

          Modern aircrafts use specialized real-time OSes, as neither Windows nor Linux are certified for "Nuclear plants, aviation systems, medical systems, etc."

          Careful certifications are needed to make those systems.

          Of course, the researcher didn't mentioned whether he was inside the cockpit or outside, and also, if the internal countermeasure systems were in place. Normally, airplanes carry to separate computers, so hacking one will only create alarms on the other due to redundancy checks. This would lead to malfunction errors and not actual corrections of flight.

          Also, he didn't specify if this was simulated or on a real flight which is subjected to supervision by radars and other stuff which isn't networked, nor has external access.

          In most of these cases, manual overdrive will easily overt any strategy to manipulate a plane using hacks on the "auto pilot".
          • Wireless Communication

            [quote] ... use a Samsung Galaxy mobile phone to take control of flight and cockpit display systems running on the ground [/quote]

            As mentioned above, the aircraft nav systems can be hacked even if the attacker is NOT inside the aircraft. ACARS usually receive messages (sita messages for ground ops movement and flightplans). Flight plans include waypoints and mach speeds of aircraft, including fuel burn. So if an attacker can upload wrong flightplans into aircraft FMS then you are basically changing the route and power settings of the flight. This data can be modified manually by the pilots, but I am afraid many licensed (airline) pilots don't even know how to load this manually as they are accustomed to the auto- function of this system.
          • on the ground

            Logically, this attack is not possible when aircraft is on flight, FMS and loading of flightplan can only be done while on the ground. Besides, unless your android has some features for satellite uplink then it would be impossible to communicate with the nav systems of an aeroplane in flight.
    • I told the major air carriers to stop using Linux. :-)

    • I told the major air carriers to stop using OSX. :-)

    • I told the major air carriers to stop using BEoS. :-)

    • I told the major air carriers to stop using ... :-)

      ... you see where this is going... right?
      • LOL!

        I chuckeled at that! :)
        William Farrel
  • How they'll solve it.

    "the Federal Aviation Administration and the European Aviation Safety Administration are working on fixing the vulnerability."

    They'll probably make it illegal to travel with an Android phone.
    • Did you see today's Dilbert?

      Same idea ...

      Dilbert: "Google provides a wi-fi enabled bus for its employees to commute from San Francisco. Why can't we be more like that?"

      The Boss: "You want to be more like a bus?"
    • I would agree

      Its not just a single plane that could be compromised. As android is also insecure. What would happen if the exploit was sent to many handsets and those in turn where of in flight passengers?
      • Yeah imagine

        Now we don't know if it was required to connect additional hardware to the phone to get the right radio frequencies...

        If no additional hardware is required, it would be possible to use it for an massive attack. Imagine if someone manage to infect 1% of the android phones in the US. If all those phones at a given date and time lauches an attack. It is likely that it is at least one infected phone in 40-70% of the planes. Hopefully people have turned off their phones and that the hack cannot override a powered down phone.
        • Numbers

          Of course the probability of a infected phone on a given plane depend in number of passengers, and what proportion of those that are using phones that can be infected.
  • Lets think big...

    Why not override missile silos... the entire GPS system... perhaps the International Space Station... THAT would make me wow.
    • missile

      That would make you dead
  • My Android...

    ...just asked me "would you like to play a game?"'s a slow day...
    • "Would you like to play a game?"

      Arcane but indeed funny reference!