Scam of the day – April 16, 2015 – Airline hacking danger

As more and more devices that we use, such as everything from refrigerators to cars become connected to the Internet for convenience, the threat of these devices being hacked has become a significant problem.  I wrote about this recently in my USA Today column dealing with the danger of what has come to be known as the Internet of Things.  Here is a link to that column.  In that column, I referred to a previous GAO study that indicated security threats involving the FAA’s air traffic control system and its vulnerability to hackers.

Earlier this week the General Accountability Office (GAO) issued a new report detailing the security threat posed to commercial airplanes due to the extensive connection of many of its systems to the Internet.  According to the GAO, “Modern aircraft are increasingly connected to the internet.  This interconnectedness can potentially provide unauthorized remote access to aircraft avionics systems.”  The WiFi used by passengers on an airplane is part of the same IP network used for the cockpit controls.    The GAO went on to note that “According to cybersecurity experts we interviewed, internet connectivity in the cabin should be considered a direct link between the aircraft and the outside world, which includes potential malicious actors.”  Even though firewalls separate these functions, as we have seen in numerous hacking of the computer systems of major companies, firewalls certainly do not guarantee security from sophisticated hackers.   As a part of its report, the GAO made three recommendations for the FAA to follow in order to increase the safety and security of air travel.


There is little that we as individuals can do to insure our safety while flying, however, as consumers we can demand of the companies with which we do business that they build safety and security into their products that are a part of the Internet of Things.  And while we have little control over our security while flying, we can protect our security elsewhere on the Internet of Things in regard to webcams, heating systems and elsewhere by taking some elementary steps, such as:

1. Don’t store personal identifying information on any device. Don’t even use your real name.
2. Use a unique and complex password for all of your devices so that if one is hacked, all of your devices are not jeopardized.
3. Read the fine print and find out what information is gathered and stored by your devices as well as how that information is used by the manufacturer.
4. Your smartphone is the entrance way to your car’s connectivity. Keep your smartphone protected with a strong and unique password as well as anti-virus and anti-malware security software.
5. Change the default usernames and passwords on all of your home network devices.
6. Use and update anti-virus and anti-malware software on your home computer network.