Nervous fliers may worry more about terrorists smuggling explosives into the cabin, but cyber attacks are becoming one of the most significant threats to passenger aircraft, a senior Boeing executive has claimed.
Jeff Kohler, vice president of international business development for Boeing’s defence arm, admitted to being “very concerned” about threats to flying software and said aircraft were now in need of cyber protection.
Planes are at risk every time they enter an airport because of the number of electronic systems they begin sharing information with and the situation will cause “a lot of issues” in the coming years, he added.
Boeing was the focus of a cyber security scare in 2008 when an analyst claimed the firm’s flagship 787 Dreamliner passenger jet had a serious weakness in its on-board computer networks which could allow passengers to take control of the aircraft.
A report by US authorities found that a network in the cabin designed to give passengers Internet access could be used to access the aircraft’s control, navigation and communication systems. Boeing claimed the problem had been fixed before the official report was issued.
In 2011, the International Air Transport Association warned airlines to “remain on their guard” against cyber terrorism which it said poses “especially serious challenges for airlines that will be taking delivery of the new generation of aircraft”.
The scenario from the film Die Hard 2, where an aircraft’s system is tricked into thinking it is flying 200 metres higher than it really is, causing it to crash land, is “no longer merely a fictional scenario”, the IATA warned at the time.
Earlier this year MPs also warned that cyber attacks could "fatally compromise" the armed forces because the government has not done enough to protect its technology against high-tech warfare.
Speaking at a security conference in Istanbul this month Mr Kohler and five other senior defence company representatives were asked about the biggest threats to be faced in the next 10 years.
In footage broadcast by Nato Review , Mr Kohler said: “I don’t think we still understand critical infrastructure protection and how cyber can affect that.
“From our commercial aircraft side we’re very concerned about it. As commercial aeroplanes become more and more digital and electronic, we have actually started to put cyber protection into the software of our aeroplanes.
“If they enter an airport environment, they are starting to exchange information and so we have to be able to protect the aircraft’s software itself, so there’s a lot of issues coming down the road just on cyber alone.”
“All of our critical infrastructure is controlled by some sort of network. This has to be the area where we’re going to face problems and where we’ve got to spend a fortune.”