Friday, April 19, 2013

Plane hacking or not?

Article about the security presentation

The denial from the Aviation Authorities

Well meaning clarification from pilot

This is both a fascinating research paper and a social comedy.

The researcher has demonstrated an interesting exploit against aircraft.  Ok, yet another insecure system. Interesting but only comment worthy for the novelty of the target.

The clearly bullshit ridden  denial from the Aviation Authorities is a nice attempt to damp down the expected alarmist crap from the usual suspects in the media.  However, the denial smells exactly like a denial.  There is really nothing that the FAA etc could say that would be beleived either by the ignorant masses, the ignorant media or technical experts. But its nice that they cared enough to make a statement. 

Finally, the well meaning clarification by the pilot.  Hmmm what can we say here?  Apart from pointing out how well meaning he is.  To put it simply, the guy is an egotistical fucking imbecile.  The whole point of hacking is to take command of a system.  This guy has not understood that pilots are part of a system.  He is arrogant enough to think that pilots are some how "above" it all.  They are uncorruptable, omnipotent and benevolent.  And like all generalisations... this one too is crap.

The evidence is easy to find. Start watching "Air Crash Investigators" or any similar program.  Pilots are human just like everyone else.  Air crews make catastrophic mistakes every day.  Sometimes they survive and sometimes they dont.  The point is that they respond with training and skill, under pressures, time limits and equipment limits.  They trust all sorts of automated systems, instruments and processes.  The point that this research has shown is that some of these automated systems may no longer be as trustworthy as the suppliers and the FAA would want the traveling public to think.

The fact that any system is hackable (read corruptable) is always simply a matter of time and resources.  Every system has weaknesses.  Most people do not have the resources to corrupt the systems around them.  Most of the time the users of those systems "trust" them.  However, the more these systems are revealed as being potentially untrustworthy, the more people are forced to consider what the systems tell them, to pay attention to inconsistencies and be aware of the big picture.  In the case of pilots, it will hopefully make them a little more aware of where the manual controls and old school instruments are located.  It may make them a little more dilligent in keeping their hand-fly skills polished.

Trust in automated systems should have limits.  Robots are only going to take over the world when we let them.  Once humans are totally redundant and a completely automated system that everyone trusts is availible, the human will be fired.  Look at the manufacturing industry.  Look at any industry where data processing has replaced people.  Once we take humans out of the loop and trust the machines there will be a much longer unemployment line.

Its disturbing to see just how many people are no longer needed to keep many large organisations opperating.  Look at all the industries that are down-sizing across the US.  White collar workers are the current ones who are being made redundant simply because knowledge can be managed by software robots. 

Showing this kind of exploit will sharpen a couple of pilots up and perhaps make them a little more paranoid for a while.  It will force the FAA etc to consider the possibility that there are exploitable systems on planes... but the other side of the arms race, the component manufacturers will work hard to rebuild that trust and show that their systems are bullet proof. Eventually everyone will trust them enough to take the humans out of the loop and planes will be completely flown by automated system.  I am suprised that commercial drones have not been trialed yet.  Certainly for freight but I expect eventually for passengers.  The final step will be fully automatic (with a remote manual override for a while).  But human trust will take the humans out of the loop eventually.

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