Saturday, January 12, 2008

Dumb Question
of the Year:
Will the 787
Be Hacker Proof?

The wires have been feeding the Internets a story the last few days debating whether the passenger Internet access in the lavish cabin of Boeing's 787 Dreamliner will be vulnerable to hacking. Apparently, this urban myth is spinning out of control, making people actually think that some pimple-faced 13-year-old can decode Boeing's security, crash through the airliner's firewall, and with a few keystrokes, send a planeload of souls to their deaths.

Yes, hell does freeze over occasionally, and pigs really can fly.

Here's a sample of the urban myth, as it's being circulated:
Boeing's new 787 Dreamliner passenger jet may have a serious security vulnerability in its onboard computer networks that could allow passengers to access the plane's control systems, according to the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration. The computer network in the Dreamliner's passenger compartment, designed to give passengers in-flight internet access, is connected to the plane's control, navigation and communication systems, an FAA report reveals.
That wired.com story makes one think Boeing would actually build a network in the 787 that is connected to the seats in back. It makes me wonder how anyone would think that Boeing – easily the smartest airplane manufacturer on this planet – could be stupid enough to rig up such a crappy third-rate network.

But then the damn myth started appearing in the seemingly endless newspapers and Internet sites that subscribe to Associated Press feeds. Here is a taste:
Before Boeing Co.'s new 787 jetliner gets the green light to fly passengers, the aircraft maker will have to prove that offering Internet access in the cabin won't leave the flight controls vulnerable to hackers and hijackers. Boeing claims it has engineered safeguards to shut out unauthorized users, but some security analysts worry navigation and communications systems could be vulnerable.
Now with all respect due AP, they did present all sides of this debate, including some quotes from Boeing, which seem to directly contradict the entire premise for the story in the first place:
Boeing spokeswoman Lori Gunter said 787's aviation electronics "are not connected in any way to the Internet." She said there is "not any place where the passenger interface to the Internet shares hardware" with the plane's aviation electronics, and that "there are multiple layers of hardware and software" that ensure "data cannot pass from the passenger entrainment network to the other more secure networks on the airplane."
See, here's the deal. Boeing makes very large objects full of people...FLY. That feat alone requires engineering that surpasses that of any IT guy out there who builds secure networks. Not to 'dis the IT world, they do amazing things daily that I cannot and should not ever attempt. But rigging up a Wimax network to hook laptops to The Google just can't compare to riveting together a bunch of aluminum, hanging two fire-spitting GE's under each wing, expecting the contraption to launch skyward with actual people strapped down inside.

I may eat my words later, but I must say without a doubt that there is no way that Boeing's in-cabin Internets access will be connected in any way to their flight control computer systems. No Way.

Flight control systems in today's fly-by-wire aircraft are so seriously redundant that even if some world-class hackmeister did break through a secure firewall and bring down the system, before an aileron would even wiggle, three more systems would take over and knock the compromised one offline. Just because some hacker without a life can figure out how to cheat World of Warquest doesn't make him/her an expert on the intricacies of a modern day computerized flying machine.