Hacking Air Traffic Control – Pilots Flying Blind – Future Aviation Vulnerabilities?

Will the next generation (NextGen) air traffic control system be an easy target for hackers? According to one expert that CNBC interviewed, the system is highly vulnerable. “…imagine, you’re at 30-thousand feet and suddenly your pilot is flying blind or taking evasive action to avoid another plane.”  The new system will use GPS instead of radar, a technology that is unencrypted and unauthenticated, enabling hackers to create ghost flights.

Hackers put data that would be used in the FAA system into a flight simulator to show what could happen if the system is hacked. “We were able to create a flight…we were able to take off from SFO [San Francisco] circle back over the bay, come back and buzz the tower.” The consequence of putting a ghost flight on the air traffic controller’s panel could be disastrous. “If I suddenly injected 50 extra flights onto their radar screen that they hadn’t expected, they’re going to be panicking trying to figure out what’s going on.” 

In an Infosecurity article from last year, Skip Nelson, the president of one of the companies that is slated to supply NextGen air traffic control systems stated, “We are quite familiar with the theory that ADS-B could be ‘spoofed,’ or barrage jammed by false targets. In fact, just about any radio frequency device can be interfered with somewhat. I obviously can’t comment on countermeasures, but you should know that this issue has been thoroughly investigated and international aviation does have a plan.”

Check out the full story at CNBC.


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