Cybersecurity researchers find vulnerability within aircraft operating system


ELLINGTON, Conn. (WTNH)– Some concerning information is coming to light about the aviation industry. Specifically a new concern at the hands of a would be hacker, targeting helicopters and small planes.

“Everyday something else is being exploited,” says Mark Lepak, senior network engineer with Kelser Corporation, an IT company in Glastonbury.

All of it having to do with what’s called the Controller Area Network or CAN Bus as it’s sometimes referred to. It’s a system of wires that allows instruments in an aircraft to basically talk to each other. That system found to be vulnerable by cybersecurity researchers.

“That could be a dangerous thing if somebody had bad intentions in mind,” said Jonathan Stone, chief technology officer for Kelser Corporation.

A hack like this is rather sophisticated. Someone would basically need access to an aircraft to install a device that would alter critical flight information, such as speed, altitude and readings.

Stone understands the issue from both sides — based on his job and flying experience, taking News 8 up with Northeast Helicopters in Ellington.

“If you were flying in instrument conditions where you couldn’t see and were totally dependent on your instruments and they were giving you false information that could result in a disaster,” Stone explains.

The degree of difficulty to make this happen is high, but doable. News 8 giving away minimal amounts of information due to the concern.

It’s also getting the attention of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA). They issued an informational alert about this over the summer.

All of this information and people are probably wondering what can be done to prevent something like this. That can be summed up in two words — physical security.

“The low-tech thing, the most effective thing is to keep the aircraft secure, keep track of who’s around them , make sure they are locked up and unauthorized people don’t have access to them,” said Stone.

Many of the operating systems in these smaller aircraft are older and updating the technology to prevent an attack isn’t necessarily an option. Which is why airports need to keep every plane and helicopter under lock and key.

“If you can get to something there’s more of a likelihood something will go wrong,” said Lepak.

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