Can a Hacker Hijack a Plane With an Android App?

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Envision the kind of mayhem a malevolent hacker could cause if he or she were able to take over an airplane simply using his Android phone. With a tap of his or her fingers, the hacker could subjectively control the plane slightly and redirect its path. If you think this is only something that could happen in a movie, think again.

Hugo Teso, a security researcher for the German IT consultancy firm N.Runs — he is a trained commercial pilot as well — explained that a protocol used to transmit data to commercial airplanes can be hacked, turning the hacker into a full-fledged hijacker.

The flawed protocol is a data exchange system called Aircraft Communications Addressing and Report System, or ACARS. Exploiting its flaws, as well as the bugs found in flight management software made by companies like Honeywell, Thales, and Rockwell Collins, Teso maintains he can take over a plane by sending it his own malicious radio signals. To do that, he has created an exploit framework, codenamed SIMON, and an Android app called PlaneSploit that can communicate with the airplanes’ Flight Management Systems (FMS).