Hijacking a Plane with Excel

Wait! That’s not the right title! Hacking Airplanes by Bruce Schneier.

I was thinking about the Dilbert cartoon where the pointed haired boss tries to land a plane using Excel. 😉

There are two points where I disagree with Bruce’s post, at least a little.

From the post:


Governments only have a fleeting advantage over everyone else, though. Today’s top-secret National Security Agency programs become tomorrow’s Ph.D. theses and the next day’s hacker’s tools. So while remotely hacking the 787 Dreamliner’s avionics might be well beyond the capabilities of anyone except Boeing engineers today, that’s not going to be true forever.

What this all means is that we have to start thinking about the security of the Internet of Things–whether the issue in question is today’s airplanes or tomorrow’s smart clothing. We can’t repeat the mistakes of the early days of the PC and then the Internet, where we initially ignored security and then spent years playing catch-up. We have to build security into everything that is going to be connected to the Internet.

First, I’m not so sure that only current Boeing engineers would be capable of hacking a 787 Dreamliner’s avionics. I don’t have a copy of it but I assume there are plenty of ex-Boeing engineers who may have a copy. And other people who could obtain a copy of it. Probably more of a lack of interest than access to the avionics code that explains why it hasn’t been hacked so far. If you want to crash an airline there are many easier methods than hacking its avionics code.

Second, I am far from convinced by Bruce’s argument:

We can’t repeat the mistakes of the early days of the PC and then the Internet, where we initially ignored security and then spent years playing catch-up.

Unless a rule against human stupidity was passed quite recently I don’t know of any reason why we won’t duplicate the mistakes of the early days of the PC and then of the Internet. Credit cards have been around far longer than both the PC and the Internet, yet fraud abounds in the credit card industry.

Do you remember: The reason companies don’t fix cybersecurity?

The reason why credit card companies don’t stop credit card fraud is that stopping it would cost more than the fraud. It isn’t a moral issue for them, it is a question of profit and loss. There is a point at which fraud becomes too costly and the higher cost of security is worth the cost.

For example, did you know at some banks that no check under $5,000.00 is ever inspected by anyone? Not even for signatures. It isn’t worth the cost of checking every item.

Security, at least for vendors, in the Internet of Things will be the same way. Security if and only if the cost of not having the security is justified against their bottom lines.

That plus human stupidity makes me think that cyber insecurity is here to stay.

PS: You should not attempt to hijack a plane with Excel. I don’t think your chances are all that good and the FBI and TSA (never having caught a hijacker yet), are warning airlines to be looking out for you. The FBI and TSA should be focusing on more likely threats, like hijacking a plane using telepathy.

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