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Linked Things in the Air getting hacked

September 13, 2013 9:06 am
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What happens if you link everything together – the future – and what happens if one of those links can be intercepted. It is still the future but the realistic one which has some edges and is not that shiny – but still interesting in every aspect.

That is what Hugo Teso thought when trying to hack the communication paths used in aircrafts – and the outcome is amazing.

Before I start to explain you what happened in this experiment I want to point out one thing. Because only things can be done – it doesn’t mean it affects the daily life of us normal people. Most things happen within a controlled environment where every parameter is known or is stable – this makes it easier – not easy – to find weak points. Out there – in real life – nothing is stable nor controllable – that’s the good thing of living things (sometimes it is our nightmare for linked things).

What Hugo Teslo did was remarkable and showed us how slow certain industries are migrating their systems to newer and stronger communication standards. He bought plane equipment using public sources in the internet and created something which can be called a plane and a ground station. With this equipment he simulated a plane which was flying with auto-pilot and the ground station (tower) was used to communicate with the simulated plane. Hugo Teso analyzed the communication protocol and standards to figure out some weak points. Those weak points got used to “talk” to the plane and smuggle own control commands in. This new commands could be everything an aircraft understands – new coordinates, lights on, fire alarm or a landing command below zero height – a grounding with deadly end.

Based on that, he build his own framework PlaneSploit – wrote an Android App (because it is cool) and was able with a separate radio station to send the plane his own control commands using his smart phone. Sounds great – sounds like everybody could do this on his/her own. This is somehow correct – thanks to Mr. Teso who published his findings and code.

But still – to get this working, a lot of engineering is necessary – it took Teso 3 years of research to figure it out – within a lab environment. Next thing is – software gets (sometimes) updated and problems get fixed – perhaps not for every plane and communication environment but there is the possibility that a few of his findings are already outdated. Also, do not forget – if the plane is not in auto-pilot, no chance to remote control the plane – at the moment.

What sense does it make to start such an experiment?
A lot of sense – just a few ideas:

  • Is something like this possible? Proof of Concept
  • Can we learn something for the future – can we fix this problems before they can be used in real life environments? How can we fix it?
  • What precautions can we take? Software based and Hardware based possibilities?
  • Is the Aircraft industry missing something ? Should they start evolving out of the Wright era into the new “linked things” era?
  • Should we be scared now – or only alerted to fix things for the future?
Written by Herbert Feutl