I was reading an article from Wired Magazine earlier this month about all airlines having a security hole that hackers could easily get into and change flight plans. (read the full article here) Let’s just hold the phone a minute on this. . . and then you can panic.
Look, the media, and frankly those of us that talk to the media, have to simplify things so people can understand what we’re talking about. When they are talking about “flight plans” here, what we’re really talking about are clearances. First the pilot (or their airline flight dispatcher) flies a flight plan with the FAA. The FAA then essentially programs when that aircraft will be in the National Airspace System. The FAA then issues a clearance, which the initial flight path an aircraft takes upon departure. That’s what they are talking about in this article.
There is some speculation about what if a hacker gave a pilot a bad flight plan. That’s not what’s happening. The most the hacker could do is screw up a clearance, like they’ve done here. Pilots are not morons (most of them anyway), and we won’t let air traffic control give us instructions that fly us into terra firma (aka, the ground). There’s a reason we don’t have unmanned drones flying around passengers. Pilots know their route of flight in general, and usually know their position over the ground, even in the clouds.
Now, that said, THIS article is what I’m talking about when it comes to securing the aviation industry from hackers as we implement the NextGen air traffic control technologies, which are dependent upon satellites and connectivity. So yes, be afraid. . . tomorrow. Today you’re probably still good.