Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Could MH370 have been hacked? It's possible!

To no-one's great surprise -- certainly not mine -- the latest search for the remains of the Malaysian Airlines B-777 used on flight MH370, which disappeared on 8 March 2014, has come up with nothing. Nada. Zero. Zilch. How could it be otherwise, when (as I've said repeatedly, as in "New search for MH370 - Walt's advice on how to get answers", WWW 6/1/18), the searchers are almost certainly looking in the wrong place!

News.com.au reported last week
that although they lost out on the multimillion-dollar finder's fee, the underwater exploration company Ocean Infinity is showing no sign of giving up on the lost plane. Even though the search has been officially called off (again), the Norwegian research vessel MV Seabed Constructor is continuing the hunt on its own, and is now looking in "previously uncharted areas".

Today, instead of talking about where MH370 wound up, let's talk about why it dove into the Indian Ocean (if indeed it did). The leading theory at the moment is that the pilot was suicidal, and flew the aircraft into the briny deep, after depressurizing the cabin to kill all the pax. Plausible, but not the only possibility.

Think about this. Almost anything that's connected to the internet can be hacked. (Look up "internet of things" on Google.) Things connected to the internet include airline operatins and... wait for it... flight controls. That's why airline ops occasionally grind to a halt "because the computer's down."

Thus the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) reported in government documents, obtained by Motherboard, that it's "only a matter of time" before cyber criminals are able to hack and remotely control an airplane.

The Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL), a Department of Energy government lab, warned in a recent presentation that the "potential of catastrophic disaster is inherently greater in an airborne vehicle." The presentation, about methods used to identify vulnerabilities in commercial aircraft, expanded on research done by the DHS last year, in which they successfully hacked a Boeing 737 by remote means.

Greg Phillips, head of the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at the Royal Military College of Canada, told Global News that the cybersecurity of commercial aircraft is indeed a major concern for the industry. "Any significant systems that involve human life are potentially targets for hacking," he said, "and that’s everything from the power grid to the water supply to the sewer to any kind of transportation, so aircraft, rail, etc. They’re all potentially vulnerable because they’re all controlled by computers, so yeah, we do need to worry about them."

A spokesthingy for Airbus Industries commented, "This is an industry issue, and one that we take seriously. However, we do not see any way for this to happen today, and we are constantly reviewing our systems and security procedures to continue to protect against potential cyber-attacks."

Is it possible, then, for cyber criminals to remotely control airplanes today? Probably not, but, Mr Phillips said, it can't be ruled out entirely. "You’d have to be able to communicate with the aircraft either on the ground or while it's in flight, and ideally what you'd want to be able to do is communicate with it in real time so you could tell it to do something like go into a power dive right now and kill everybody."

Say wut?! Isn't that the latest theory on what happened to MH370, which numbered among its passengers scores of Chinese IT professionals? Errr, yes... but of course we're only speculating here. It's equally possible (IMHO) that MH370 was shot down, accidentally or on purpose, by a missile launched by Indian or American armed forces, the latter operating out of the US base at Diego Garcia. Who knows....

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