Saturday, July 28, 2012

Researcher: New air traffic control system is hackable

  • Researcher: Hackers could trick new air traffic control systems into seeing fake aircraft
  • The new system will be rolled out in the United States by 2014
  • The FAA says it conducts onging assessments of vulnerabilites

(CNN) -- Air traffic control technology is getting a major upgrade in the United States that is scheduled to be completed in 2014, but the new systems are susceptible to potentially dangerous manipulation, according to a security researcher.

The actual flaws might seem mild compared to everyone's worst fears and common Hollywood plot lines. Planes cannot be forced from the sky or dangerously redirected. But the researcher says the system can be tricked into seeing aircraft that are not actually there. Messages sent using the system are not encrypted or authenticated, meaning anyone with the basic technology and know-how could identify a plane and see its location.

Computer scientist Andrei Costin, a Ph.D. student at Eurecom, gave a talk on the weaknesses of the new air traffic system at the Black Hat security conference in Las Vegas on Wednesday. He did not mention any known hacks of the system, but did demonstrate the potential negative scenarios.

Old radar systems are being replaced with a new technology called Automatic Dependent Surveillance - Broadcast system, or ADS-B. The traditional radars work by sending a signal that triggers an aircraft's responder to send back its position. The new system uses the global satellite navigation system to continuously broadcast the locations of planes. The information is sent to other aircraft and ground stations; the ground station sends the location to air traffic controllers.

The new system will open up this flight information to a new player: the general public.

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