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[ISN] (FUD?) Radio hackers steer aircraft into danger
From: InfoSec News (isnC4I.ORG)
Date: Mon Aug 28 2000 - 02:48:38 CDT
Ok, Its been a slow weekend for security news, But this one perked my
ears since its about radio hackers and not computer hackers, and its
written by one of my favorite English journalists (Jonathan
Ungoed-Thomas) when it comes to writing stories about FUD.
And one of my personal favorites...
I know the threat is real, but who knows how real the article below
is, I'll probably find out from the many readers of ISN over the next
couple of days.
Jonathan Ungoed-Thomas and James Clark
August 27th 2000
RADIO hackers posing as air traffic controllers are endangering
hundreds of lives by giving bogus instructions to pilots as they take
off and land.
A criminal investigation has been launched after one plane last month
was twice given false instructions by a hoaxer as it approached a
The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) has issued a safety alert after 19
similar incidents in the past eight months. "There has been a
significant increase in the number of reported occurrences of
unauthorised and malicious transmissions being made on UK air traffic
frequencies," warns the CAA safety circular. They include fake
distress calls and false instructions.
"This is a criminal act which could ultimately result in a serious
accident," said Richard Dawson, president of the Guild of Air Traffic
Controllers. "The problem is that the people making these spurious
calls are mobile and can be very difficult to trace."
Last month a plane landing at East Midlands airport near Derby was
given bogus instructions by someone purporting to be an air traffic
controller. The genuine controllers did not hear the false
transmission and were alerted only when the crew could be heard
speaking to someone else. Realising the aircraft was in potential
danger, one of the controllers issued the frantic instruction:
"Respond to my voice only." A spokesman for the airport said last
week: "A malicious transmission was made to an aircraft and a criminal
investigation is under way."
Last November a man posing as an air traffic controller at Edinburgh
airport gave a plane a bogus flight path but was foiled by alert
controllers. Two months before, a radio ham at Manchester airport was
de-tected issuing false commands to pilots who became suspicious
because he was not using correct terms.
Pilots preparing to land have always been susceptible to interference
from other radio traffic. Crews regularly complain of music from
pirate stations suddenly broadcast into the cockpit and even
conversations betw-een cab drivers. They are, however, anxious about
the increasing menace posed by hoaxers' commands, usually heard only
in the cockpit and not by traffic controllers. Although pilots always
read back instructions, the fear is that a mistake or a communications
breakdown could result in a tragedy.
The CAA circular highlights peculiarities that are likely to expose a
bogus controller: "The malicious messages may sometimes be identified
by a change in the individuality of the transmissions, [such as] the
controller's voice characteristics."
In 1998, there were just three malicious transmissions; last year
there were 18. The CAA has reported 20 so far this year. There have
been no prosecutions. The portable transmitters used by the hoaxers
can be operated only with a licence. They can, however, be bought by
mail order for as little as 300. "This is clearly a safety concern and
there need to be stricter controls on the sale of this equipment,"
said Carolyn Evans, technical secretary of the British Airline Pilots'
* The government yesterday announced an investigation into potential
danger from cabin air on passenger jets. The Sunday Times last week
revealed new evidence of toxic leaks.
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