FBI issues search warrant after man claims he hacked plane

Posted May 18, 2015 by James Walker
The FBI has issued a search warrant for a man who claims to have successfully hijacked aircraft during flight. He used his laptop computer to hack the plane's systems and temporarily gain control of the engines, causing it to fly sideways.
A United Airlines pulls up to gate at Denver International Airport
A United Airlines pulls up to gate at Denver International Airport
Chris Roberts is alleged to have accessed the in-flight entertainment systems of aircraft around 15-20 times between 2011 and 2014. He connected his laptop to the Seat Electronic Box beneath passenger seats before exploiting the systems to gain access to aircraft control.
The search warrant filed for Roberts by an FBI agent reveals that he was able to issue a command to the engines of a plane that he was on in February 2015 by overwriting the contents of the Thrust Management system onboard. By altering the speed of one of the engines, he successfully made the plane change course.
Roberts, an airline security expert, has previously boasted of how he could hijack aircraft control systems and hit the headlines recently for tweeting that he could "start playing with EICAS [the engine indicating and crew alerting system] messages" while on an airplane, adding that he could deploy the oxygen masks.
A few days after the tweet was issued, the FBI prevented him from boarding a flight to California. The FBI has warned airlines to look out for people who appear to be connecting cables to the in-flight entertainment systems and to report any damage to network ports or unexplainable activity on the plane's network.
The method in which Roberts ultimately gained access to the network is as trivial as always though: it was protected only by the default usernames and passwords. Once his laptop was connected with an ethernet cable to the in-flight entertainment system, Roberts found himself able to explore the entire network, including the critical systems powered by it.
Roberts has claimed that he is trying to raise awareness of the insecurity of airlines. He began investigating around six years ago and held a presentation on his findings in Las Vegas in 2010.
Wired reports that he has also consulted with airplane manufacturers but "it never went anywhere" and that he has become frustrated with the lack of progress in recent months, leading him to allegedly take control of the plane in February. Roberts has said that the passage in the FBI search warrant describing this has been published "out of context" with the rest of the closed-doors discussion and aviation experts have questioned whether Roberts successfully altered the engines.