recommended reading

No, That German Hacker Probably Can't Hijack an Airplane with Software

An alarming dispatch from the Hack In The Box security conference in Amsterdam arrived on Wednesday: a hacker says he's found a way to take over airplane controls. That's probably not true. At least according to the Federal Aviation Administration, the European Aviation Safety Administration and Honeywell, the maker of the cockpit software, it's not. The FAA, for one, says, "The described technique cannot engage or control the aircraft's autopilot system using the FMS or prevent a pilot from overriding the autopilot." The agency assures America that this hack "does not pose a flight safety concern because it does not work on certified flight hardware."

So why did Hugo Teso, the German hacker in question, tell everybody at the conference as well as countless journalists who've latched on to the story that he could take over the software? Well, Teso says he's successfully taken over a plane's controls — in a flight simulator on his desktop computer at home. Hoping to expose some of the security flaws in planes' flight management system, Teso bought some FMS hardware on eBay as well as some FMS software that, according to Forbes "was advertised as containing some or all of the same code as the systems in real planes" and gave it a go. And he did it! Teso said that his technique would send radio signals to the plane and hijack its controls. "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."

To recap that order of events: Hacker buys equipment from eBay, loads up software that may contain "some or all of the same code" that's on commercial jets and -- in a flight simulator -- hijacks a plane. Come to think of it, that does sound a little reach-y doesn't it? The whole thing seems even less believable if you check out the slides that he used during the presentation, complete with images from The Matrix and Japanese Manga cartoons. One reason why the story felt like it could be feasible is the fact that there have been warnings from all sides of the cybersecurity industry about vulnerabilities in air traffic control software. This has been happening for years, and the FAA has actually admitted to risks in that arena.

We're not trying to say that Teso's making all this up. But hacking into your desktop computer's flight simulator is something that middle school kids do in technology class. It's not reason to strike fear into the hearts of millions. But hey, at least Teso seems well intentioned. You certainly can't say that about all hacker-types these days.

Threatwatch Alert

Cyber espionage / Spear-phishing

Russia-Linked Hacker Unit Targets French Presidential Election

See threatwatch report


Close [ x ] More from Nextgov

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Modernizing IT for Mission Success

    Surveying Federal and Defense Leaders on Priorities and Challenges at the Tactical Edge

  • Communicating Innovation in Federal Government

    Federal Government spending on ‘obsolete technology’ continues to increase. Supporting the twin pillars of improved digital service delivery for citizens on the one hand, and the increasingly optimized and flexible working practices for federal employees on the other, are neither easy nor inexpensive tasks. This whitepaper explores how federal agencies can leverage the value of existing agency technology assets while offering IT leaders the ability to implement the kind of employee productivity, citizen service improvements and security demanded by federal oversight.

  • Effective Ransomware Response

    This whitepaper provides an overview and understanding of ransomware and how to successfully combat it.

  • Forecasting Cloud's Future

    Conversations with Federal, State, and Local Technology Leaders on Cloud-Driven Digital Transformation

  • IT Transformation Trends: Flash Storage as a Strategic IT Asset

    MIT Technology Review: Flash Storage As a Strategic IT Asset For the first time in decades, IT leaders now consider all-flash storage as a strategic IT asset. IT has become a new operating model that enables self-service with high performance, density and resiliency. It also offers the self-service agility of the public cloud combined with the security, performance, and cost-effectiveness of a private cloud. Download this MIT Technology Review paper to learn more about how all-flash storage is transforming the data center.


When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.