DHS issues hacking security alert for small planes

DHS issues hacking alert for small planes

Washington — The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) issued a rare security alert Tuesday for small planes. The alert warns if a hacker gained physical access to certain small planes, they could attach a common device to its wiring. This could provide false flight data including altitude and airspeed, as well as possible access to the autopilot system, potentially leaving a pilot unable to tell whether the reading was accurate and potentially lose control of the aircraft.

"We could do basically anything the plane can do, pretty much anything the pilot could do by himself," said Tod Beardsley, director of research at cyber security firm Rapid7.

In a laboratory setting, researchers at Rapid7 were able to hack what's essentially a plane's electronic central nervous system, allowing them to send the erroneous commands. "I do think it is something of a wake up call. This is something that needs to be taken seriously now rather than later, like after the disaster," Beardsley said.

Last year, Homeland Security researchers, who successfully hacked a 757 while it was parked, warned it's only "a matter of time before a cybersecurity breach on an airline occurs." DHS is now urging small plane makers to study the cyber security protections car makers added after hackers were able to exploit similar technology on the roads.

The Federal Aviation Administration tells CBS News a "scenario that involves unrestricted physical access is unlikely" but these findings are "an important reminder to remain vigilant." Rapid7 said it notified the company that built those two systems, but their findings prompted DHS to urge pilots to secure their aircraft and for manufacturers to take a look at options to better secure these systems.

  • Kris Van Cleave

    Kris Van Cleave is the transportation correspondent for CBS News.