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Passenger Claims He Can Control Aircraft's Flight Controls From His Passenger Seat

May 17, 2015 - It appears that founder of OneWorldLabs, Chris Roberts may have hacked into a United Airlines aircraft's flight control computers via the airplanes in-flight entertainment system (IFE) from his passenger seat. If true, it would have given him full access to the pilots cockpit functions. Roberts claims to be an ‘ethical hacker’ states he was able to do this through a glitch in the aircraft's flight control computer system software.

This first became publicly known when Roberts began sending out tweets on twitter last month, "Find myself on a 737/800, lets see Box-IFE-ICE-SATCOM, ? Shall we start playing with EICAS messages? "PASS OXYGEN ON" Anyone ? :)" 1:08 PM - 15 Apr 2015.

This wasn't taken serious by the news media until it was learned that the FBI, in a request for a signed warrant by a judge, indicated in the warrant they had a conversation with Roberts in which he stated he was able to control the Boeing 737-800, 737-900, 757-200 and Airbus A-320 aircraft's flight control computer system by connecting to it via the IFE while being seated as a passenger.

Roberts' claims, while on a United flight, he was able to cause the aircraft to bank and climb at his own will, while seated as a passenger. Roberts claims he was able to connect into the seats in-flight entertainment system, that was on the back of the seat in front of him and connect into the cockpits flight control computer system, in which he was able overwrote code on the airplane’s Thrust Management Computer. At which point he was able to issue commands such as, climb, etc.


FBI Special Agent Mark Hurley wrote in his warrant application, referring to Roberts, “He stated that he thereby caused one of the airplane engines to climb resulting in a lateral or sideways movement of the plane during one of these flights.... He also stated that he used Vortex software after compromising/exploiting or "hacking" the airplane's networks. He used the software to monitor traffic from the cockpit system.



"On April 15, 2015 a Senior Manager with United Airlines' Cyber Security Intelligence Department, advised that United Airlines flight 1474 was equipped with a Thales IFE system with seatback monitors. Two SEBs are installed in each row. One SEB is installed on each side of the airplane aisle. A SEB is installed under seat 2A and a SEB is installed under seat 3A. 

"A Senior Manager with United Airlines' Cyber Security Intelligence Department advised the FBI that EICAS refers to the Engine Indication Crew Alerting System. The EICAS provides the pilots with information about the airplane engines.

"According to a Senior Manager with United Airlines' Cyber Security Intelligence Department , the portion of Chris Roberts' tweet "PASS OXYGEN ON" may refer to the passenger oxygen masks on the aircraft. ICE is a possible acronym for In Flight Communications Equipment or Integrated Communications Equipment.

"On April 15, 2015 Chris Roberts changed aircraft after arriving in Chicago and flew to Syracuse, New York on United Airlines flight 3642. United Airlines flight 3642 was not equipped with an IFE system.

"United Airlines aircraft with tail number 3260 flew from Chicago to Philadelphia on April 15, 2015. The flight number was 1607. The flight arrived at gate D13 at Philadelphia International Airport on April 15, 2015.

"On April 15, 2015, a Special Agent with the FBI inspected the SEBs in the first class cabin on United Airlines 737 aircraft, flight 1607 at gate D13 at the Philadelphia International Airport. A Special Agent with the FBI advised that the SEBs under seats 2A and 3A showed signs of tampering."

Roberts claims he learned of the software glitches about six years ago when he was given flight manuals of different aircraft, which included wiring diagrams that showed how in-flight entertainment systems on some planes were connected to the passenger satellite phone network, which included functions for operating some cabin control systems. Roberts claims he accessed in-flight networks through the Seat Electronic Box, or SEB about 15 times during various flights, between 2011 and 2014. 

As a result of so much attention that has been brought to this case, investors on the board of directors at OneWorldLabs have decided to pull back financial support and as a result the company has had to layoff more than a dozen of its employees. Roberts said “The board has deemed it a risk... Their decision was not to fund the organization any further.”

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