FBI Claims Hacker Took Control of Plane from His Seat

According to court papers filed, an FBI agent claims a cybersecurity expert who was pulled off a United flight in April, hacked the plane’s inflight controls which led to the plane going sideways.

Chris Roberts, founder of security firm One World Labs and a leading cybersecurity expert was pulled off a plane recently, after putting out an ill-timed post on his twitter, joking that he could deploy the oxygen masks on the plane. His laptop and other electronics at the time were immediately seized. At the time, an airline spokesman confirmed that Roberts was being investigated because of his tweets posted. He also added: “However, we are confident our flight control systems could not be accessed through techniques he described.”

The warrant made public.

Although the agents didn’t possess a warrant when Roberts’ devices were being seized, they told him that the warrant was pending. This warrant has now been published online.

During two separate interviews with F.B.I. agents in February and March this year, Roberts allegedly told investigators that he had successfully compromised (hacked) in-flight entertainment systems, “approximately 15 to 20 times” between 2011 and 2014.

The affidavit reads; “He then connected to other systems on the airplane network after he exploited/gained access to, or ‘hacked’ the IFE system. He stated he then overwrote code on the airplane’s Thrust Management Computer while aboard a flight. He stated that he successfully commanded the system he had accessed to issue the “CLB” or climb command. He stated that he thereby caused one of the airplane engines to climb resulting in a lateral or sideways movement of the plane during one of these flights”.

Roberts, in an interview with WIRED said the FBI’s claims about previous interviews or incidents were taken out of context.

“It would appear from what I’ve seen that the federal guys took one paragraph out of a lot of discussions and a lot of meetings and notes and just chose that one as opposed to plenty of others,” Roberts told WIRED. He also said that he wasn’t expecting the affidavit to go public. “My biggest concern is obviously with the multiple conversations that I had with the authorities,” he said. “I’m obviously concerned those were held behind closed doors and apparently they’re no longer behind closed doors.”

FBI agents also allege that there were signs of tampering in the seat where Roberts was sitting. As stated in the affidavit, the electronic box under the seat was damaged, with the outer cover opened and the screws loose.
Roberts denied this completely. “Nope I did not (damage the electronic box),” he told WIRED. “That I’m happy to say and I’ll stand from the top of the tallest tower and yell that one. … Those boxes are underneath the seats. How many people shove luggage and all sorts of things under there?”

Roberts has not been charged with any crime, yet. The allegations contained in the search warrant haven’t been proven in a court of law.