According to an FBI affidavit, Chris Roberts, a cybersecurity expert and founder of One World Labs, hacked into flight computer systems of several aircrafts more than 15 times, while on separate occasions he even managed to take control of one plane’s engine. Roberts said that he wanted to prove how frail aircrafts with onboard entertainment systems were.
He was taken under custody by federal agents in April after a series of tweets in which he was boasting that he could hack into the plane he was traveling on. He is now under investigation for computer crimes.
According to FBI, Roberts told federal investigators that he had successfully hacked into several airplanes’ entertainment systems up to 20 times in the past three years. He also explained how he managed to do it – he overrode the code of on-board Wi-Fi based entertainment systems and used a command to get into the flight control system.
“He stated that he thereby caused one of the airplane engines to climb resulting in a lateral or sideways movement of the plane during one of these flights,”
the FBI reported.
Roberts said he tried to exploit the security breaches of four types of Boeing and Airbus jet planes equipped with on-board entertainment systems. He also noted that his sole motive was to “improve aircraft security” and complained that the federal agency compressed his 5-year research work into only one paragraph.
He later told reporters that the FBI took several key data out of context and disseminated that erroneous information in all its later reports, discussions and notes. Roberts declined to provide more details on the missing context because he couldn’t “say anything about it.”
The FBI also wrote in the affidavit that Roberts had the necessary knowledge and skills to break into any airplane’s in-flight entertainment system and take control over the aircraft. The agency explained that it had to detain him in April because he was a danger to public safety.
On April 15, the man was traveling from Denver to Syracuse via Chicago on a United Airlines aircraft. The company contacted the FBI to tell investigators that Roberts had been boasting on Twitter that he managed to hack into the plane’s entertainment and flight control systems.
Although, the FBI reported that there were signs of damage to control boxes of on-board entertainment systems, Roberts declined he had hacked the computer system of the United Airline aircraft on April 15. He said that his tweets were purely sarcastic and no real harm was done. Boeing also disclosed that its on-board entertainment systems were “isolated” from flight control systems.
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