Can A Mobile Phone Hack A Plane?

Can A Mobile Phone Hack A Plane?

There’s a speculative report from the Sunday Express that theorises that Malaysian Airlines Flight MH370 might have been hijacked, potentially, by terrorists who might have used a mobile phone to access airline systems that could have been interconnected with the inflight entertainment system. That’s a lot of weasel words isn’t it?

But, let’s for a moment say that this is all possible and that the plane was taken over by someone using a smartphone app. Can we learn anything from this?

If you don’t want people to “jump” across systems then they need to operate independently on separate infrastructure. For example, on a plane, the network used to distribute movies for the inflight entertainment system needs to be a separate physical LAN from the aircraft control systems.

All wireless comms for the flight systems need to be encrypted.

Logins to systems need to be fiercely protected.

Robust intrusion detection systems need to be employed so that any attempt to break into a control system is recorded and the source is identified as best as possible.

There are lots of other elements to this story that are worth considering but, even if the speculation is wildly inaccurate, it does give us some food for thought when it comes to designing our own systems.


  • “Here’s some speculation, followed up with some more speculation. I have no idea if they do any of this already..”


    • Maybe it wasn’t a mobile phone. Maybe it was a brain implant. Developed by the NSA. Implanted in a space alien.

      • Now you’re just being silly, it was clearly a teleport tractor beam from the planet Xarq that did it. Explains the complete lack of evidence doesn’t it? I rest my case.

  • I can see the papers now:

    “Violent computer hackers take down Malaysian Airlines Flight MH370, every plane in the world is vulnerable and WILL crash”

    • All this is caused by GTA 5 or Microsoft Flight Simulator where you can train yourself to fly a plane and know how to hijack it.

      • Pretty sure they tried that line after September 11 — claiming terrorists had access to cheap flight simulation software such as FlightGear or Microsoft Flight Simulator.

        What they didn’t realise was, a flight sim on a desktop PC is no more of a training program than Tetris teaches you carpentry.

        • There is alot that can be learned from a flight sim that translates directly into flying for real.
          All of the communication devices that were shut down can be learned with high accuracy on
          a sim.
          Also, the use of the autopilot (which fly the plane for 99% of it’s flight) can also be learned very easily. It’s really just programming in a bearing, altitude and speed, the computer handles the rest. Flying a plane is quite easy unless something malfunctions or when it’s time to land.
          So, I’d actually argue that both of the main aspects that appear to have contributed to the flight disappearance – change of bearing and disarming the comms – are more than feasible with a moderate amount of Flight Sim experience.

          • +1 thanks for the info! Not being a pilot, (but fiddling around in MS Flight Sim and not knowing what the hell I was doing), I wasn’t sure what kind of experience you could get.

  • The flight control system on the B772 is not interconnected with the inflight entertainment system in any manner whatsoever. It’s on a completely separate, isolated BUS.

    A little respect for the family of PAX on this missing flight will behoove people well. Promulgation of fanciful rumours like “someone used their mobile phone to remote control the flight” or “the ACARS was turned off before the last transmission” or even “The engines were talking to the satellite” are all hurting the family of these hundreds of people.

    • Hoorah. Someone with some actual knowledge of the network design of a plane has been consulted.

      Enough with you. The pure conjecture and speculation makes for far better click bait.

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