Boeing 757 Hacked

A Boeing 757 sits on a runway.

A Federal Cyber-security expert – Tom Hickey – says his team hacked a Boeing 757 while it was sitting on the runway.

What happened?

We have heard a lot about hacking over the past couple of years.  This is considered, in fact, a new normal in everyday life.  Hacking unfortunately isn’t contained to just our laptops or mobile devices.  We are seeing a concerning wave of hacking attempts against our cars, smart home devices and now even an airplane.

There has been a rumor that this may be possible for a while.   A claim was made a few years ago that a hacker was able to exploit a vulnerability in a planes wi-fi network and gain access to cockpit instruments and controls.   The difference with Hickey’s report is that it’s confirmed, and was done without physical contact to the plane.

The team was in an airports terminal and the plane was sitting on the runway.  The exact details on how they gained access haven’t been released yet but some of the explanation seems to be based around RF devices in the plane.  RF, or radio frequency, is a reference to wireless communication between the plane and Hickey’s team.

Hickey goes on to say that he didn’t have any help from anyone on the plane and that all of the equipment he used was generally available electronics which can legally be brought through the security checkpoint at the airport.

While this hack was done as a research scenario – and not to a plane in the sky – it is important to realize the vulnerability and address it.  It is also important to note that it’s just the older version of the Boeing 757 that seems to have this weakness.

Was this hacking problem just discovered?

Hickey says the existence of the weakness that they were able to exploit has been known for a while.   The reason behind why it hasn’t been addressed is one of cost.  Hickey estimates that it can take One Million Dollars and a full year to change one line of code across a fleet.   This is part of the reason why the details of exactly how Hickey’s team were able to get in haven’t been released publicly.

Is computer security and hacking being taken seriously?

If you get a new operating system, like Windows 10 or iOS 11, is security built in? Can it be hacked?

In the case of the airplane hack, newer planes take security seriously and have more protection against this type of a problem.  In the case of our personal equipment such as computers and mobile devices security is built in from the ground up.  But much like the lock on your front door someone somewhere can get through.  And unlike your front door the concepts of computer security are changing by the hour and it’s a race between the good guys and the bad guys to keep things secure.

William (Bill) Sikkens has been a technology expert for KXL on the Morning Show with Steve and Rebecca since 2014. With an expertise in I.T., cyber security and software design he has had more than 20 years’ experience with advanced technology. Sikkens conceptualizes and designs custom applications for many professional industries from health care to banking and has the ability to explain the details in a way all can understand.

Got a technology question or comment for Bill? Follow him on Twitter @sikkensw

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