AN AMERICAN researcher has claimed he altered the course of an aeroplane after hacking its in-flight entertainment system.
Chris Roberts, a respected cybersecurity professional with One World Labs, had his computers seized and was taken in for questioning by the FBI after he posted a tweet on board a United Airlines flight.
The tweet, since deleted, was apparently in jest and saw Roberts suggest he could tap into the aircraft’s crew alert system and cause passenger oxygen masks to drop.
According to a warrant application obtained by Wired, Mr Roberts claimed he had hacked the in-flight entertainment systems on 15 to 20 flights between 2011 and 2014.
“[Roberts] stated that he thereby caused one of the aeroplane engines to climb resulting in a lateral or sideways movement of the plane during one of these flights,” FBI agent Mark Hurley wrote.
Roberts was able to gain access to the access to the in-flight system after prying open the electronics box under his seat before connecting his laptop via an Ethernet cable.
It was here he was able to scan the network for security flaws and monitor communications from the cockpit.
Since the affidavit has been made public, a number of security researchers have taken to twitter to slam the hacker.
“I find it really hard to believe but if that is the case he deserves going to jail,” wrote Jaime Blasco, director of AlienVault Labs in a tweet.
“You cannot promote the (true) idea that security research benefits humanity while defending research that endangered hundreds of innocents,” wrote Alex Stamos, chief information security officer of Yahoo.
Mr Roberts said he was concerned that the warrant application had been made public.
“My biggest concern is obviously with the multiple conversations that I had with the authorities,” he told Wired.
“I’m obviously concerned those were held behind closed doors and apparently they’re no longer behind closed doors.”
He said one paragraph in the affidavit regarding his alleged hacking of the United Airlines flight had been taken out of context.
“That paragraph that’s in there is one paragraph out of a lot of discussions, so there is context that is obviously missing which obviously I can’t say anything about,” he said.
“It would appear from what I’ve seen that the federal guys took one paragraph out of a lot of discussions and a lot of meetings and notes and just chose that one as opposed to plenty of others.”