By William J. Gorta
A computer security expert told the FBI that he hacked into an airplane’s computer and briefly took over control of the engines, court documents reveal.
Chris Roberts, CTO and founder of One World Labs, told FBI agents he connected his computer to the in-flight entertainment system and the overwrote code to commandeer the thrust management system, according to a search warrant filed last month in the federal court in Syracuse, N.Y.
“He [Roberts] stated that he successfully commanded the system he had accessed to issue the “CLB” or climb command,” FBI Special Agent Mark Hurley wrote in the warrant application. “He stated that he thereby caused one of the airplane engines to climb resulting in a lateral or sideways movement of the plane during one of these flights.”
The warrant does not identify the flight involved nor does it include any corroboration.
Roberts told FBI agents during interviews in February and March that he had hacked into in-flight entertainment systems 15 to 20 times between 2011 and 2014 by connecting a modified Ethernet cable to an electronics box under the seat in front of him.
“Chris Roberts furnished the information because he would like the vulnerabilities fixed,” the document says.
Six weeks later, FBI agents seized a cache of electronics equipment from Roberts after he tweeted about hacking the computers on a United Airlines flight, according to court papers. The warrant application asks permission to perform a forensic search on the equipment.
After another user said Roberts could wind up in jail, Roberts tweeted back that he knew he was playing with fire.
The FBI said in the warrant application that the electronics box under the seat in front of Roberts had been tampered with.
Roberts said he had been banned from all United Airlines flights. United confirmed the ban to the Associated Press and said they were confident their systems are secure.
First published May 17 2015, 3:54 PM