Airplanes are vulnerable to hackers, report indicates

CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - Could airplanes be vulnerable to hackers?

WBTV Cyber Expert Theresa Payton, founder of Fortalice Solutions, says it is possible but not likely.

Still, she cautions, a new report by the US Government Accountability Office should be seen as a wake-up call.

Payton says the report indicates the planes that could be hacked are some of the most popular in the sky. They include the Boeing 787 Dreamliner, the Airbus A350 and A380 aircraft. Other models and private jets could also be at risk according to the report.

According to Payton, the report shows if the proper precautions were not in place, that hackers with technical know-how could possibly do 1 or more of the following:

-- Take over the controls from the Pilot and Co pilot

-- Install malware or a computer virus onto the computers that the Pilot and Co pilot use

-- Take over the early warning systems, oxygen masks, or even navigation systems

We asked Payton if we should be concerned. Her response and advice follows.

"It is highly unlikely that you could accidentally down a plane by jumping on the plane's WiFi but yes, there's a risk. If you had malware on your device, connected to WiFi, and that malware was designed to seek and maliciously impact cockpit software, then there could be an issue. And there is the risk that hackers, that planned out what they wanted to do to hack the controls, could compromise the cockpit," Payton said.

She adds the good news is there are several redundancies built into the system that should allow a Pilot or Co Pilot to take back over the controls.

She'd like to see the airlines need to pay attention and make sure their on board WiFi is completely segregated from the cockpit controls.

Payton believes the federal government is taking this report very seriously. She says it is under review in DC by the members of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. The Senate Commerce Committee is also reviewing the issues uncovered in the report.

If you'd like to read the US GAO report, click here.

Copyright 2015 WBTV.  All Rights Reserved.