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Can commercial aircraft communications be hacked?

Flaws were detected by decoding the firmware used to operate satellite communications equipment for military and civilian aircraft.

By CBR Staff Writer

The Wi-Fi and in-flight entertainment systems in commercial aircraft could leave their satellite communications equipment vulnerable to cyber attacks, claims a security expert.

IOActive cybersecurity researcher Ruben Santamarta claimed that he can modify or disrupt satellite communications, eventually interfering with the aircraft’s navigation and safety systems by hacking the aircraft’s integrated avionics.

Santamarta told Reuters: "These devices are wide open. The goal of this talk is to help change that situation.

"In theory, a hacker could use a plane’s onboard wi-fi signal or inflight entertainment system to hack into its avionics equipment, potentially disrupting or modifying satellite communications, which could interfere with the aircraft’s navigation and safety systems."

Santamarta was successfully able to detect flaws by decoding ‘Firmware’ used to operate satellite communications equipment for military and civilian aircraft built by Cobham, Harris, EchoStar’s Hughes Network Systems, Iridium Communications and Japan Radio.

Confirming some of his findings, representatives for Cobham, Harris, Hughes and Iridium, however, downplayed the threats discovered by Santamarta.

Cobham spokesperson said: "In the aviation and maritime markets we serve, there are strict requirements restricting such access to authorized personnel only."

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Santamarta added: "The findings of IOActive’s research should serve as an initial wakeup call for both the vendors and users of the current generation of SATCOM technology."

More details about the findings will be revealed at the upcoming Black Hat hacking conference in Las Vegas.

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