(National Sentinel) Tragedy-in-Waiting: There is hardly anything more terrifying than being aboard a commercial airliner that runs into a problem at 35,000 feet. It’s hard to even imagine what is going through someone’s mind when an engine fails or there is some other physical damage.

But what about unseen problems? Like cyber attacks and hacking? Are they even possible?

Not only are they, but the Department of Homeland Security believes that such a scenario is inevitable, according to a new assessment.

In fact, the assessment notes it’s “only a matter of time” until a commercial aircraft is hacked. Most planes lack cybersecurity protections to prevent such a hack.

Motherboard managed to obtain the internal DHS documents through a Freedom of Information Act request.

They detail vulnerabilities in commercial aircraft and risk assessments. A number of the documents are still being “withheld pursuant to exemption” of the FOIA.

The documents include a presentation from January by Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL), which falls under the Energy Department, detailing efforts to hack an aircraft through its WiFi service, as part of a cybersecurity test.

RT.com reported further:

The hacking test was to be carried out without any insider help, from a position of public access (for example, a passenger seat or the airport terminal), and without using hardware that would trigger airport security. According to the presentation, the hack allowed the researchers to “establish actionable and unauthorized presence on one or more onboard systems.”

Another document, from 2017, says testing indicates “viable attack vectors exist that could impact flight operations.” A DHS presentation included in the documents says “most commercial aircraft currently in use have little to no cyber protections in place.” It points to the fact that even a perceived successful cyber attack could have an “enormous impact on the global aviation industry.”

Homeland Security’s Science and Technology Directorate documents further warn that current policies and practices are not good enough to deal with the “immediacy and devastating consequences that could result from a catastrophic cyber attack on an airborne commercial aircraft.”

Cyber vulnerabilities have been known since at least 2015.

In November, DHS official Robert Hickey said his agency managed to successfully hack the avionics of a commercial Boeing 757 in 2016.

In addition, he noted that representatives from American Airlines and Delta Airlines were shocked to learn the U.S. government had known about the risk of avionics hacking for so long but had not informed airlines of it.

bullet proof vests

At the 2018 Black Hat conference, security expert Ruben Santamarta says he will demonstrate how a commercial airliner can be hacked from the ground — by accessing the wifi network and reaching the plane’s satellite communication, which could be weaponized as a radio frequency (RF) tool, RT.com reported.

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