A US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) official confirmed that his team was able to remotely hack into a parked Boeing 757 aircraft. The mechanism of the hack and the extent of the vulnerability are classified.
Speaking to Aviation Today, Robert Hickey of the DHS stated that the nobody was “touching the plane” and that the hack happened only via wireless protocols using hardware that anyone would be allowed to carry onto a flight. Via the hack, Hickey claimed to have established “a presence on the systems of the aircraft”.
The Boeing 757 is a twin-engine commercial jetliner that first entered service in 1983. Production ceased in 2004. It is an old aircraft and Boeing officials tell The Daily Mail that they’re not worried about the hack and that they “are not afraid to fly”. They state that the hack happened on an obsolete aircraft using obsolete hardware and software. Newer aircraft are protected against hacking, but several airlines still operate older aircrafts, which could potentially be vulnerable.
In fact, as Aviation Today points out, the Boeing 737 aircraft, which has been around since 1968, is still a very popular aircraft and forms the backbone of many airlines. Of course, the aircraft model has been regularly updated and the models being sold today are quite unlike the original aircraft. This doesn’t change the fact that older models are still in service, however.
Hickey believes that the transport sector (surface and maritime transport included) requires a greater awareness and focus on cybersecurity. He thinks that the aviation sector is too focused on terrestrial-based threats, and this precludes the possibility of a wireless hack. He strongly believes that cybersecurity in aviation simply cannot be assessed by the same standards employed for land-based systems.
Even if a vulnerability is detected, fixing it is an exorbitantly expensive and time-consuming process. Aviation Today calculates that the cost of changing a line of code in a 737 is $1 mn and takes at least a year to implement.
To be clear, we’re not saying that the 737 is vulnerable to a hack. The report only suggests that it’s possible that older aircraft are vulnerable to wireless or other forms of hacking.
The prospect of a remote-hijacking of in-flight systems during a flight is certainly a terrifying one