US & Canada

US in-flight internet could be hacked, watchdog warns

A generic picture of a laptop being used on a plane

Wireless systems used by passengers on planes in the US could be hacked to access flight controls, a federal watchdog agency has warned.

A report by the US Government Accountability Office (GAO) said it is one of several emerging security threats not being dealt with properly.

It comes as air traffic control is modernised to use satellite technology.

The US Department of Transportation said it was "committed to strengthening capabilities against evolving threats".

GAO investigators spoke to cyber security experts who said onboard firewalls intended to protect avionics from hackers could be breached if flight control and entertainment systems use the same wiring and routers.

One expert told investigators "a virus or malware" planted on websites visited by passengers could provide an opportunity for a malicious attack.

Michael Huerta from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), which oversees airspace, agreed with the GAO's findings and said it had begun working with government security experts to make the changes needed.

"This threat will continue to evolve and it is something that needs to be at the forefront of our thinking," he told a Senate oversight panel.

Congressman Peter DeFazio said: "FAA must focus on aircraft certification standards that would prevent a terrorist with a laptop in the cabin or on the ground from taking control of an airplane through the passenger wi-fi system."

The Department of Transportation said the FAA was "committed to strengthening our capabilities to defend against new and evolving threats with a high degree of urgency".

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