It should be the last place you’d expect to experience hacking, but the US Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) has raised serious concerns over the security of computer systems onboard the all-new Boeing 787 airliner.
The embarrassing revelation was spotted by Wired in a ‘special conditions’ report, in which the FAA asks Boeing to look again at the lack of firewalling between the 787’s flight control and in-flight entertainment systems, which could allow the former to be accessed by passengers.
“It [the onboard network] 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 report, adopting a dry tone.
“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,” it says.
It appears that the FAA is worried that the systems used by the pilots to fly the aircraft – including some aspects of flight control and navigation – could be open to compromise by users logged in to the Internet access and entertainment networks, a ludicrous state of affairs for an airliner destined to be one of the commonest aircraft in the world.
The report suggests that a backup system might be put in place to allow pilots to disable passenger access to the onboard networks.
The 787 is reported to have 800 advance orders, and will make its maiden flight in March, before entering service in November of this year, so there is still time to sort out software vulnerabilities before it takes to the sky with real passengers.
Boeing has made the onboard digital systems a key feature of the 787, claiming that they are the most advanced ever fitted to a passenger aircraft.
In fairness to Boeing, the FAA’s concerns appear to have been fed by complaints from rival aircraft business, Airbus, which might be expected to pick holes in Boeing’s design so as to delay its commercial launch.
According to Wired, Boeing has undertaken to sort out the issues. But the sharp warning to aircraft designers will doubtless not go unheeded. Fill the new generation of aircraft with fancy in-flight entertainment and Internet access by all means, but don’t let the passengers fly the plane.