Skip to comments.Boeing's new Dreamliner has serious security vulnerability
Posted on 01/07/2008 1:29:55 PM PST by TomServo
Among the amenities Boeing's new Dreamliner offers its passengers is on-board Internet connection in flight; the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) reveals that the computer network in the Dreamliner's passenger compartment is connected to the plane's control, navigation, and communication systems; this means that computer savvy passengers could access -- and take control of -- the plane's control systems; experts say a more secure design would physically separate the two computer networks
It's always something: It it's not one thing, it's another. Boeing's new 787 Dreamliner passenger jet may be among the most modern and technologically sophisticated crafts, but it may also have an exceedingly serious security vulnerability in its on-board computer networks which could allow passengers to access the plane's control systems, according to the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). The FAA reveals in its report that the computer network in the Dreamliner's passenger compartment, designed to give passengers in-flight Internet access, is connected to the plane's control, navigation, and communication systems. Wired's Kim Zetter writes that the revelation is causing concern in security circles because the physical connection of the networks makes the plane's control systems vulnerable to hackers. A more secure design would physically separate the two computer networks. Boeing said it is aware of the issue and has designed a solution it will test shortly. "This is serious," said Mark Loveless, a network security analyst with Autonomic Networks (a company still in stealth mode), who presented a paper last year on Hacking the Friendly Skies (see his PowerPoint presentation). "This isn’t a desktop computer. It's controlling the systems that are keeping people from plunging to their deaths. So I hope they are really thinking about how to get this right."
The 787 Dreamliner is in final stages of production, and it is Boeing's new mid-sized jet, which will seat between 210 and 330 passengers, depending on configuration. Boeing says it has taken more than 800 advance orders for the new plane, which is due to enter service in November 2008. The FAA is now demanding that Boeing demonstrate that it has addressed the computer-network issue before the planes begin service. The FAA document says that the vulnerability exists because the plane's computer systems connect the passenger network with the flight-safety, control, and navigation network. It also connects to the airline's business and administrative-support network, which communicates maintenance issues to ground crews. The design "allows new kinds of passenger connectivity to previously isolated data networks connected to systems that perform functions required for the safe operation of the airplane," says the FAA document. "Because of this new passenger connectivity, the proposed data-network design and integration may result in security vulnerabilities from intentional or unintentional corruption of data and systems critical to the safety and maintenance of the airplane."
Boeing spokeswoman Lori Gunter said the wording of the FAA document is misleading, and that the plane's networks do not completely connect. Gunter would not go into detail about how Boeing is tackling the issue but says it is employing a combination of solutions that involves some physical separation of the networks, known as "air gaps," and software firewalls. Gunter also mentioned other technical solutions, which she said are proprietary and did not want to discuss in public. "There are places where the networks are not touching, and there are places where they are," she said. Gunter added that although data can pass between the networks, "there are protections in place" to ensure that the passenger internet service doesn't access the maintenance data or the navigation system "under any circumstance." She said the safeguards protect the critical networks from unauthorized access, but the company still needs to conduct lab and in-flight testing to ensure that they work. This will occur in March when the first Dreamliner is ready for a test flight. Gunter said Boeing has been working on the issue with the FAA for a number of years already and was aware that the agency was planning to publish a document regarding the Dreamliner. Gunter said the FAA and Boeing have already agreed on the tests that the plane manufacturer will have to do to demonstrate that it has addressed the FAA's security concerns. "It will all be done before the first airplane is delivered," she said.
Loveless said he was glad the FAA and Boeing are addressing the issue, but without knowing specifically what Boeing is doing, it is impossible to say whether the proposed solution will work as intended. Loveless told Zetter that software firewalls offer some protection, but are not bulletproof, and he noted that the FAA has previously overlooked serious on-board security issues. "The fact that they are not sharing information about it is a concern," he said. "I'd be happier if a credible auditing firm took a look at it."
People who don't understand computers imagine that hackers can do the impossible. When someone takes control of another computer through a network, they aren't really applying control remotely, they are simply taking advantage of that computer's willingness to volunteer that control.
These holes in security are provided intentionally by the makers of the computer systems being attacked. Microsoft wants it to be easy to modify software, within PCs, from a remote location.
An aircraft's flight control network has a completely different architecture, than a Windows network. It is safe to assume that the two are connected through a proprietary device that converts data between the two networks, but cannot create control signals on the flight control network.
Boeing can make it so that it is no easier for a hacker to gain control of the flight control systems from a passenger seat, than it is to gain control of the power lines through my ADSL CODEC.
That 797 sure is a funny looking aircraft!
you are not incorrect and perhaps I am giving hackers more credit than is due. that being said, I would still feel better if these networks were completely and totally separate. IMHO, joining them in any way, form or function isn’t sound.
Cute, isn’t it. They have 4 of those. They are modified 747s used solely to move completed 787 sub-assemblies (fuselage, nosecone, wing, etc.) from far away places to the main Boeing assembly plant at Paine Field.
You left out "Press 1 for English..."
"Open the pod bay doors, HAL."
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