Wednesday 19 March 2014

World's first cyber hijack: Was missing Malaysia Airlines flight hacked with mobile phone?

The search is continuing for missing the missing Malaysian Airlines flight [Ap]
INTELLIGENCE chiefs fear the missing Malaysian airliner was hijacked by hackers taking over the controls using a mobile phone
British anti-terror expert Dr Sally Leivesley said last night: “It might well be the world’s first cyber hijack.”

Dr Leivesley, a former Home Office scientific adviser, said the hackers could change the plane’s speed, altitude and direction by sending radio signals to its flight management system. It could then be landed or made to crash by remote control. Possible culprits include criminal gangs, terrorists or a foreign power.

The chilling new theory emerged as the hunt for the missing Malaysia Airways Boeing 777 with 239 people on board became the biggest air-sea search in history.

More than a week after Flight MH370 vanished en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing, Malaysian police began searching the captain and co-pilot’s homes as it was finally confirmed that the disappearance was a “deliberate act”.

Dr Leivesley, who runs her own company training businesses and governments to counter terrorist attacks, told the Sunday Express she believes a framework of malicious codes, triggered by a mobile phone, would have been able to override the aircraft’s security software.

“There appears to be an element of planning from someone with a very sophisticated systems engineering understanding,” she said.

“This is a very early version of what I would call a smart plane, a fly-by-wire aircraft controlled by electronic signals.

“It is looking more and more likely that the control of some systems was taken over in a deceptive manner, either manually, so someone sitting in a seat overriding the autopilot, or via a remote device turning off or overwhelming the systems.

“A mobile phone could have been used to do so or a USB stick.

“When the plane is air-side, you can insert a set of commands and codes that may initiate, on signal, a set of processes.”

Dr Leivesley said the hacking threat was laid bare late last year at a science conference in China

She explained: “What we are finding now is that it is possible with a mobile phone to initiate a signal to a preset piece of malicious software, or malware, in the computer that ­initiates a whole set of instructions.

“It is possible for hackers, be they part of organised crime or with government backgrounds, to get into the main computer network of the plane through the inflight, onboard entertainment system.

“If you have got any connections whatsoever between the computing systems, you can jump across and you can get into the flight critical ­system.

“To really protect your computer systems, you do not let anything ­connect with them and you would keep the inflight systems totally in their own loop so nothing whatsoever connects.

“There are now a number of ways, however, in which the gap between those systems and a handheld device like a mobile phone can be overcome.”

Last April, German security consultant Hugo Teso, who is also a commercial pilot, unveiled a way to hijack a plane remotely using a phone.

Addressing the Hack In The Box security summit in Amsterdam, he said he had spent three years dev­eloping a series of malicious codes on a mobile phone app called PlaneSploit that hacked into an aircraft’s security system.

With the cream of the global intelligence community, America’s huge satellite arsenal and 14 different nations now involved in the search for the missing plane, there is also a growing belief that answers to many of the questions might lie in the private world of 53-year-old pilot Zaharie Ahmad Shah. Police have been standing guard outside the father-of-three’s home since the flight vanished but yesterday saw the first extensive search inside.

Diaries, personal papers, computer files and the flight simulator that Captain Zaharie had built himself, and which he had proudly shown off on the internet, will all undergo detailed forensic analysis. Any data held on the simulator’s computer might give an indication whether the pilot had planned a trial run of events prior to the ill-fated flight to Beijing.

Police also began searching the home of the 27-year-old co-pilot Fariq Abdul Hamid.

He was described by his family as a “good boy, good Muslim, humble and quiet” although photographs have emerged in recent days of him inviting two attractive women into the cockpit during a flight three years ago

The fact that Malaysia’s Prime Minister Najib Razak has taken personal charge of the investigation highlights the government’s efforts to appease international criticism of the search, particularly from China.

Yesterday Najib gave the firmest indication to date that the cause of the plane’s disappearance was down to someone on board, revealing how investigators now believe the Aircraft and Communications Addressing and Reporting System had been dis­abled, followed by the switching off of the transponder used to communicate with air traffic control.

At the same time, the flight also deviated wildly from its intended course north to Beijing, tracking west over the Malaysian peninsula before veering north westwards across the Straits of Malacca. “These movements are consistent with deliberate action by someone on the plane,” said Najib. “Clearly the search for MH370 has entered a new phase.

“In view of this latest development, the Malaysian authorities have refocused their investigation into the crew and passengers on board.

“The investigations team is making further calculations which will indicate how far the aircraft may have flown after the last point of ­contact.”

He said the plane’s last communication with a satellite was in one of two possible “corridors”.

One arcs northwards towards Thailand through to the border of the central Asian countries Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan. It could indicate that the aircraft may have been hijacked with the intention of flying it to somewhere in Asia.

This northern route would have taken the plane through areas with extremist Islamist groups and unstable governments, as well as remote, sparsely populated areas.

The region, however, also contains American military bases with powerful surveillance capabilities.

The second route arcs into the vast Indian Ocean. With a fuel load intended for only a six-hour flight to Beijing, any journey across the ­thousands of miles of open water, with an average depth of 12,762ft, could have resulted only in the aircraft ditching in the sea.

Culled from


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