Airplane Hack Exposes Weaknesses of Alert and Avoidance Systems
Researchers warn commercial airplane systems can be spoofed impacting flight safety of nearby aircraft.
The aircraft safety system known as the Traffic Alert and Collision Avoidance System (TCAS) can be coerced into sending an airplane on a mid-air rollercoaster ride – much to the horror of those onboard.
Researchers were able to cobble together an effective method for spoofing the TCAS using a $10 USB-based Digital Video Broadcasting dongle and a rogue transponder, for communicating with aircraft.
“We have shown that careful placing of fake aircraft through rogue transponder broadcasts can cause an aircraft under autopilot control to climb or descend towards legitimate traffic,” wrote Pen Test Partners’ Ken Munro in a blog post outlining his research.
Those “fake aircrafts” can trigger an airplane’s collision avoidance system to kick-in. That will then alert a pilot to either climb in altitude or descend to avoid a mid-air collision. In some cases, mostly on Airbus, researchers said the aircraft automatically follows what is known as the TCAS “Resolution Advisory” (autopilot) and climbs or descends with no input from the pilot.
For the record, Munro’s proof-of-concept attack was conducted on a flight simulator.