Hard at work on new hacks, a Berlin Chaos Communication Congress in action

Boeing has dissented from US government agency fears that airliners like the 777 that was operating missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 can be taken over by computer hackers.

It issued a statement this morning in response to media interest in a US Government Accountability Office (GAO) report entitled “AIR TRAFFIC CONTROL: FAA Needs a More Comprehensive Approach to Address Cybersecurity.”

That report resulted from a request by Congress to review the Federal Aviation Administration’s cybersecurity efforts as the body shifted to NextGen Air Traffic Control system which will radically increase the role of automation in the safe navigation and separation of airliners.

Part of the GAO report identified potential airplane vulnerability resulting from unauthorized individuals compromising or disrupting airplane avionics systems by hacking into those systems via the In-Flight Entertainment or Wi-Fi systems on board modern airplanes.

Earlier this week media picked up on the GAO report as an authoritative voice on the vulnerability of airlines to computer hacking  arguing that by such means terrorists could grab control of airliners, including perhaps missing flight MH370, which was abruptly diverted from its course while flying between Kuala Lumpur and Beijing with 239 people onboard on 8 March last year.

The Boeing statement says:

Boeing respectfully disagrees with elements of this GAO report, which was primarily focused on concerns for the NextGen Air Trafffic Control system.  This GAO report relies, to a degree, on questionable assumptions about how systems on board airplanes are networked. The report contains some key technical and factual information that is incorrect and should not be considered as a definitive source on the systems architecture on board modern airplanes. 

IFE systems on commercial airplanes are isolated from flight and navigation systems. While these systems receive position data and have communication links, the design isolates them from the other systems on airplanes performing critical and essential functions.

Boeing is committed to designing airplanes that are both safe and secure — meeting or exceeding all applicable regulatory requirements for both physical and cyber security. For security reasons, we do not discuss specific airplane design features.

It is worth noting that Boeing airplanes have more than one navigational system available to pilots. No changes to the flight plans loaded into the airplane systems can take place without pilot review and approval. In addition, other systems, multiple security measures, and flight deck operating procedures help ensure safe and secure airplane operations.

This comes a day after Australia, China and Malaysia agreed to double the area to be searched on the floor of the southern Indian Ocean for MH370 should their current tripartite search fail to locate its wreckage by the end of May.

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