US computer expert hacked into plane and made it fly sideways: FBI

Los Angeles: In a shocking incident in the US, a computer security expert hacked into a plane's in-flight entertainment system and made the jet briefly fly sideways by ordering one of the engines to go into climb mode.

Chris Roberts of 'One World Labs' in Denver was flying on the plane at the time it turned sideways, according to an FBI search warrant. The warrant was first reported on Friday by news network APTN, a Canadian News Service.

Roberts told the FBI that he had hacked into planes "15 to 20 times," according to court documents first made public last week.

Roberts first made news in April when he was told he could not fly on United Airlines because of tweets he had made about whether he could hack into the flight's on board computer settings. The FBI search warrant describes him doing just that.

According to the document, in an interview on February 13, 2015, Roberts told agents he had hacked into in-flight entertainment (IFE) centres on Boeing 737s, 757s and Airbus A-320 aircraft "15 to 20 times."

The warrant describes how Roberts would wiggle and squeeze the Seat Electronic Box under his seat, which connected to the plane's IFE, the USA Today reported. He would then connect a cable to the box and connect it to his computer. From there, Roberts was able to hack into the plane's IFE system using default IDs and passwords.

He overwrote computer code for the planes' thrust management computer, which he told agents allowed him to make the plane climb on his command.

At least once, according to the document, he told one engine on a plane to climb, causing the plane to move sideways as it flew.
Roberts also used software to monitor traffic from the cockpit, according to the search warrant request.

Roberts is a well-known and respected expert on computer security. He told the FBI he was furnishing the information "because he would like the vulnerabilities fixed."

FBI agents had told Roberts that accessing an airplane network without authorisation was a violation of federal statues. Roberts told them he understood and that he would not hack into any more airplanes, according to the document.

On April 15, Roberts flew United from Denver to Chicago. On the flight, he tweeted about the possibility of accessing the plane's In Flight Entertainment system. Roberts flew from Chicago to Syracuse. When he arrived, FBI agents took him into custody and seized as digital evidence his computer, hard drives and other gear he had with him. The search warrant application was for permission to search Roberts' computer gear.

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