FBI Admits Security Expert Briefly Hacked Flight Control

The FBI claims that the security expert who was recently in the news for claiming that a plane’s controls can be hacked, stating in an affidavit that he did take control of a flight for a short time, causing it to fly sideways. Canadian news service APTN was the first to report about the document, which also claims that using the cockpit’s own system, Chris Roberts was able to monitor air traffic. As of now, Roberts has not been charged with any crime.

FBI Admits Security Expert Briefly Hacked Flight Control

Roberts hacked aircraft systems many times

According to a search warrant application filed with the federal court, Chris Roberts told the FBI that he hacked into the in-flight entertainment systems of aircraft from both Boeing and Airbus 15 to 20 times between 2011 and 2014. Also Robert told the agency that once he was able to control the engine briefly by rewriting the code for the thrust management computer.

The affidavit also mentions that FBI agents searched the plane that Roberts flew in to Syracuse April 15. In the search, the agents found evidence (loose screws, outer cover open) of possible tampering with the electronic box located at the bottom of the passenger seats.

FBI incorrectly presenting the facts

Roberts, who is the founder of One World Labs, is an expert in airline system security issues. Roberts believes that the FBI is wrong in its approach, saying, “There’s a whole five years of stuff that the affidavit incorrectly compressed into 1 paragraph… lots to untangle.”

Roberts was in the news last month when he was barred from boarding an April 18 United Airlines flight from Denver to San Francisco. Also on April 15, Roberts was pulled off a United flight to Syracuse, New York for tweets which drew the FBI’s attention. He tweeted that he could hack the aircraft systems and make oxygen masks deploy. At that time, the FBI agents seized two computers, hard drives and USB drives from Roberts, and the recent warrant is for searching those gadgets only.

Professor Alan Woodward from Surrey University told the BBC that manipulating and accessing a flight control system is something that’s “difficult to believe” as flight systems, like any other critical safety systems, are generally placed physically separate. Woodward says there is a possibility that the conversation between the researcher and the FBI is misunderstood.