Friday, April 04, 2008

Hack the Boeing 787 Dreamliner

Way back in January, I read a story on (click here) that explained how Boeing's next major passenger aircraft, the 787 Dreamliner, had three on-board computer networks, all of which were physically connected. (click here for more background.)

Which means the potential - however remote - exists for someone to hack the flight computers. Was that a chill you just felt in your spine? You're not alone.

In the ensuing quarter, the FAA expressed concern, and Boeing has since said that it has fixed the problem. You'll pardon me for not believing them implicitly. I'm still waiting for a stable version of Windows, after all.

I'm kinda surprised that this issue flew under the radar. Maybe after a week where one major airline after another grounded its planes for one scary fault after another, the radar needs a little recalibration.

Your turn: I'm not an aeronautical engineer. But I know enough about computer networks to know that not physically isolating them is a bad idea. Sort of like leaving a caged tiger in the same room as a sleeping baby. Sure, it's in a cage and all. But do you really think it's such a good idea for it to be there? Would you fly this plane after its first flight next year?

One more thing: A couple of fun media hits this week...

BusinessWeek paraphrased me (I!) So Maybe Apple Was onto Something. Byline Cliff Edwards and Bruce Einhorn. Here's the paraphrased graf:
RIM has also signaled that it is preparing to do battle with Apple. The Canadian company says it plans to introduce at least four new handsets this year, though it won't provide details. Analyst Carmi Levy of AR Communications believes that at least one of the devices will have a touch screen.
Business News Network (BNN). I spoke with Michael Hainsworth on Wednesday afternoon, just before Research In Motion announced the results of yet another strong quarter. Click here to load the interview (yes, Mom, I brushed my hair.)

Update - April 6, 2008: Found this April Fool's joke that's worth a laugh for anyone who follows the aviation industry.


Jean-Luc Picard said...

The Dreamliner doesn't sound too dreamy!

Michele sent me here.

Bubblehead said...

Since I have already decided I am going to die on a China Eastern flight I would fly the 787 (assuming it wasn't flown by them).

What disturbs me most is that not one of these engineers said "hey, maybe it's not such a good idea to put all our eggs in 1 basket"

Sleepypete said...

I first thought on reading that they'd connected all 3 networks together : "why would they do that ? passengers have no need to see flight data ?" But then I remembered being on a Trans-Atlantic flight watching the little plane icon move. I think that'll be why they've put that connection in.

I think it would depend on what protocols they're using over each network for whether or not hacking is a practical possibility. If they're not using TCP/IP, then you'd have to have unusual software on the laptop to hack the flight related network.

You'd need a little insider information to get knowledge of the proprietary message structures in use but it would still be possible to mimic those, especially given time on the aircraft with a network logger.

It's also curious they use the term "physical connection" in an age where wi-fi is becoming the norm. Maybe the security teaching people haven't fully caught on there ...

I agree with Ezor - best firewall is 6 inches of air, without wi-fi ;-)

Sara said...

I doubt that I would fly on that plane - it's doubtful that I would fly on any plane. I hate flying!

It hit me reading this post (even though I've read tons of other posts where you share about your interviews, etc) - that you really are an important person in the business world! How cool is that - that you are also my friend!

R. Sherman said...

My dad designed aircraft components for McDonnell-Douglas including the radars for the F-4 Phantom and F-15 Eagle. He also did internal navigation for the Mercury and Gemini spacecrafts.

Among his favorite maxims was this:

"Redundancy, Redundancy, Redundancy. Again, I say 'Redundancy.'"

One would hope the current engineers at Boeing have not forgotten that maxim.


kenju said...

Carmi, whatever would we do without you to keep us updated on the world of computers? I wouldn't fly on that, and I bet Michele wouldn't either!!

Star said...

Flying is getting scarier and scarier. I am going on an 8 hour light in a couple of weeks. Not on te Dreamliner though. Michele sent me.