Aircraft satellite comms systems can be hacked via in-flight Wi-Fi, claims researcher

Aircraft satellite communication systems could potentially be hacked using in-flight Wi-Fi and entertainment systems, a security researcher has found.

Ruben Santamarta said he used reverse engineering techniques on the firmware used to operate the satellite communication systems to figure out how to do it.

It is feared this could pave the way for hackers to alter a flight's satellite communications, which in turn could affect its navigation and safety systems.

At present, he's only tested his hypothesis in controlled environments, but if they can be replicated and verified by aviation experts it could result in a major overhaul of in-flight technologies.

Therefore, he hopes going public with his findings will encourage those responsible for manufacturing in-flight Wi-Fi and satellite communication systems to review how those products are made.

He is set to reveal his findings during a presentation at this week's Black Hat hacking conference in Las Vegas on Thursday.

"These devices are wide open. The goal of this talk is to help change that situation," he told Reuters.

The publication also contacted the firmware manufacturers whose products could potentially be targeted by hackers, including Cobham, Harris, Hughes Network Systems, Iridium Communications and Japan Radio.

The latter firm declined to comment on the findings, while the others reportedly confirmed that some of his findings were accurate.

Caroline Donnelly is the news and analysis editor of IT Pro and its sister site Cloud Pro, and covers general news, as well as the storage, security, public sector, cloud and Microsoft beats. Caroline has been a member of the IT Pro/Cloud Pro team since March 2012, and has previously worked as a reporter at several B2B publications, including UK channel magazine CRN, and as features writer for local weekly newspaper, The Slough and Windsor Observer. She studied Medical Biochemistry at the University of Leicester and completed a Postgraduate Diploma in Magazine Journalism at PMA Training in 2006.