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Parting from the reasonable supposition that "everything can be hacked", I am sure the answer is 'yes.' But is it something possible, or even feasible?

I know that aeroplane computer systems are proprietary, but that would be a pretty weak security by obscurity policy, so I assume they have other security measures to protect the systems from hacking?

I ask due to a recent claim of the developer of PlaneSploit, Hugo Teso, who claims that he performed such a feat.

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  • Well for one thing, I'm willing to bet that their computer systems can only be accessed if you have physical access (the computer controlling the aircraft itself probably can't recieve anything without wires). And if someone does have unrestricted physical access... I guess that makes it their plane.
    – KnightOfNi
    Mar 22 '14 at 16:56
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    Airplane's computers doesn't really communicate with ground, there's ACARS but it's only one-way (plane -> ground) so there's no possibility to send the airplane some malicious packet that could exploit something, and systems that provide Wi-Fi on airplanes are separated from the actual airplane's computer so there's no way a hacker can connect to that Wi-Fi and do bad stuff. But yes, there are some other vulnerabilities, for example if a compromised firmware was installed on the computer.
    – user42178
    Mar 22 '14 at 16:56
  • You should define what you mean by 'hacking' and of course the aircraft (commercial, private, what). I assume you mean the sensational kid in the back row on a laptop sending commands to the plane making it go off course (saw it in a movie once). This really isnt feasible (currently) because so many of the aircraft's systems are either not digital (analog) or have no means to access apart from it's physical firmware. May 22 '14 at 18:00
  • @MatthewPeters: Hacking, in the sense of non-authorized intrusion, and taking control of the aircraft, which was a Boeing or Airbus. Plus points for scarier when doing it from the ground (not as a passenger in the plane). May 22 '14 at 19:26
  • @Quora Feans, you're still rather vague. In any case, the challenge is creating the method that allows 'hacking'. Physically, an aircraft doesnt have critical components linked to a wireless access point. The only way I could thing of doing this would be to physically install a receiver and modifying the system controller(s) to use it. May 23 '14 at 12:45
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There are in fact 2 points here:

  1. can an aircraft computer be hacked?
  2. is it really a question?

For the first question, AFAIK, the airplane only exchange trivial data with the ground and there is no distant direct interface. So it can only be hacked if you have a local access

For the second one, if you have a local access you can do much more damage than hacking the system: the system is programmed to react according to various sensors giving its air velocity, air pressure, etc... If you replace the velocity sensors to return wrong values past a time it could lead to terrible behaviour. And it you were able to do that, you could just install a little bomb. Both simpler and more efficient...

That being said, providing wrong parameters from the ground can also be very dangerous. The pilot is expected to know correct the air pressure at the landing point. If a wrong (but not stupid) value is entered, the system could try to land 100 meters below the ground. If visibility is poor a crash is to be expected...

Ok providing only one wrong parameter should not be enough because aircraft systems use a lot of redundancy, but providing multiple and consistent parameters could be really dangerous. Fortunately, it soon becomes very hard to do.

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The only totally secured system is one which is powered off and the cut up into pieces with an axe.

Some of they key goals of an airplane would be to keep it in the air and to know where you are located. Digital systems must obtain this information from sensors or from transmissions from some other system. Can you jam the airspace or interfere with beacons, radio, GPS, etc. EMP? so that the systems are fed inaccurate information? Can you take advantage of some trick of physics to trick the sensors into reading inaccurate input.

Maybe you compromise the system by installing unauthorized hardware or software before the plane takes off if the attacker gains physical access. Perhaps there is coding error of which an onboard spy can take advantage. Perhaps you just have a spy who is using his authorized commands to do something prohibited by protocol.

You can secure systems by ensuring there is proper encryption, authentication of source data, checks against replays - general stuff that is probably not there in commercial systems because of legacy systems and the need to upgrade the entire global infrastructure. There are probably additional physical protections to reduce EMI, etc. There are probably many things which could be improved security-wise, but it would be difficult to introduce these systemwide.


This high level explanation of PlaneSploit shows that there was a lack of encryption (authentication and integrity) controls in the systems attacked.

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If you can get access to it, then yes - and easily so. But there isn’t just one computer, there are many.

The computers are on their own closed (certainly in the past, anyway) network. Physical access is available to engineers for upgrades and maintenance. As to the specific physical security measures, that’s going to be confidential.

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