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Security Hardware

Remote Control To Prevent Aircraft Hijacking 544

Snad writes "The UK's Evening Standard is reporting that Boeing plans to roll out aircraft remote control systems in a bid to eliminate the threat of terrorist hijackings, and prevent any repetition of the events of September 11 2001. 'Scientists at aircraft giant Boeing are testing the tamper-proof autopilot system which uses state-of-the-art computer and satellite technology. It will be activated by the pilot flicking a simple switch or by pressure sensors fitted to the cockpit door that will respond to any excessive force as terrorists try to break into the flight deck. Once triggered, no one on board will be able to deactivate the system. Currently, all autopilots are manually switched on and off at the discretion of pilots. A threatened airliner could be flown to a secure military base or a commercial airport, where it would touch down using existing landing aids known as 'autoland function'.'"
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Remote Control To Prevent Aircraft Hijacking

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  • by Marxist Hacker 42 ( 638312 ) * <> on Wednesday March 07, 2007 @06:47PM (#18268524) Homepage Journal
    Why not autotakeoff as well, then we can just eliminate the human pilots altogether [] for nonmilitary aircraft?
  • by Todd Knarr ( 15451 ) on Wednesday March 07, 2007 @06:51PM (#18268602) Homepage

    1. Body-check door to activate auto-pilot function.
    2. Activate high-power jammer to prevent remote control of the aircraft. You're a lot closer to the receiver than any ground-based transmitters are, so the jammer's got a lot less work to do to drown out their signals.
    3. Wait for aircraft to run out of fuel.
    4. Buddies enjoy watching the world watch on in horror as hundreds of people wait for hours for certain death and nobody can do a single thing to prevent it.
    5. Buddies go on the air thanking the nice folks at Boeing and in the US Government for making this all possible.
  • what if... (Score:4, Interesting)

    by wizardforce ( 1005805 ) on Wednesday March 07, 2007 @06:52PM (#18268626) Journal
    what concerns me is: 1) it could be accidentally triggered under certain conditions i.e. someone nudges the door like in a fall bracing against the door etc. 2) if an accident did happen, normal flight would incur excessive delays [acceptable or not?] 3) under what conditions would the system not detect a hijacking, ie can it be triggered from the ground in case of failure? 4) human error- suppose the system is bypassed by the pilot- ie it isnt switched on or the door is kept open etc. what then? how would these problems be addressed and how would it affect the normal operations in flight?
  • Well.. (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Creepy Crawler ( 680178 ) on Wednesday March 07, 2007 @06:53PM (#18268640)
    Ok. This thing uses autopilot to infer its location, and probably sight maps too.

    What would prevent it from getting.. well, "fucked up", by using this [] on a wee higher power setting?

    Lemmee see... USB changeable, dual bands, 30 ft radius (well, the whole inside the metal tube of the plane), and looks like cigarettes.

    Or, how would one make an EMP pulse using a workable "laptop" with lithium batteries and capacitors? Im sure Boeing doesnt use Tempest on low earth flights (jets I'd imagine otherwise).

    Thats right. I shouldnt be talking about this, as I "might" alert the terrorists. HINT: They already know, and can search the internet just like you. They also have a brain to devise stuff, just like us. I use the standard security "excuse": Its better to know a vulnerability and have the chance to shut down the service than it is to not know and take the proverbial beating for it.
  • by andy314159pi ( 787550 ) on Wednesday March 07, 2007 @06:55PM (#18268674) Journal
    How much cash and resources do we have to spend on 9/11 related expenditures before we realize that it's going overboard? It was a terrible day, the worst in my life and it didn't even affect me personally (i.e. I didn't know anyone who died.) But I think that the spending has gone overboard. I'm guessing that there will be serious safety issues related to this system anyhow.
  • Not just terrorists (Score:3, Interesting)

    by CdBee ( 742846 ) on Wednesday March 07, 2007 @07:01PM (#18268760)
    this is a vehicle for the US Govt (- and legal system, which sometimes is scarier yet) to harvest wanted people who may have committed no crime in their own countries and bring them to the USA involuntarily

    Do you seriously think they wouldn't use it?
  • by Ayal.Rosenthal ( 1070472 ) on Wednesday March 07, 2007 @07:03PM (#18268788) Homepage
    Exactly. If this system ever comes online then hijackers will simply plan and figure out a way to disable the system. Its easier said than done, and probably very costly, but if you get the right hackers you can break into (almost) any system. - Ayal Rosenthal
  • Re:Different problem (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday March 07, 2007 @07:17PM (#18268976)
    Because the terrorists aren't that clever. That sounds like a pretty big headed statement to make, but when you look at the details of 9/11 then you realise that they were stretched to the limit to find, inside their entire organisation/network, 4 people capable of learning how to understand basic operations of a JJ.

    It took al-Qaeda 5 years to simply put together the 911 plot, from inception to execution. It was one of the more (if not one of the most) complex plots they had undertaken, and out of that all they could scrape together were about half a dozen men capable of learning rudimentary aircraft controls. Hi-tech hackers breaking (presumably) encrypted communications to wrestle an aircraft from governmental control and then remotely control it themselves to fly into buildings? Most of the time terrorists are underestimated, but sometimes they are overrated - the great weight of support from these organisations comes from people who are poor, jobless, thick and angry. They managed to find 19 people to kill themselves for 9/11 - 15 of them were basically without a brain (think Lenny from OMAM but without the good intentions), and the other 4 were middle of the road college level educated people who were no einstein's.
  • SEPERATE CABINS (Score:2, Interesting)

    by AngstAndGuitar ( 732149 ) on Wednesday March 07, 2007 @07:26PM (#18269082)
    Middle eastern airlines have had this for a long time, it's not too difficult to think of, unless you're plain stupid. Planes with NO PASSAGE BETWEEN FLIGHT DECK AND PASSENGERS. Is that hard? I guess it requires another exterior door, bathroom for pilots, food service for pilots (read "fridge"), etc. But ultimately, the simplest solution is probably the best. Why can't people even think of this? Well, I guess it's an easy retrofit that you couldn't charge an arm and a leg for.
  • by AJWM ( 19027 ) on Wednesday March 07, 2007 @07:30PM (#18269160) Homepage
    Category IIIC ILS, yes.

    Category III C - A precision instrument approach and landing with no decision height and no runway visual range limitations. A Category III C system is capable of using an aircraft's autopilot to land the aircraft.

    That's autoland. It'll even steer the aircraft down the runway, and brake if it's equipped with autobrake. Totally hands off. How else would you land in zero-zero fog?
  • Re:The obvious? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Ltar ( 1010889 ) on Wednesday March 07, 2007 @07:52PM (#18269470)
    What if it weren't remote control? What if, upon activation, all that happened was the plane figured out where it was, and plotted its own course, never accepting any outside-guiding signal? the removes the threat of flying into "zombie airspace", where someone is broadcasting a hack-signal and crasing planes.
  • by aschlemm ( 17571 ) on Wednesday March 07, 2007 @08:15PM (#18269808) Homepage
    I was on a United Boeing 777 from Chicago to Seattle and visibility was so bad in Seattle that our flight wouldn't have been able to land except that the 777 has an autoland capability. It was a gentle landing but it was weird since the fog was so thick I could see anything out of the window and could only tell we landed when I felt the landing gear touchdown on the runway.
  • by zoltamatron ( 841204 ) on Wednesday March 07, 2007 @10:12PM (#18271120)

    ... don't disable it, just co-opt it! You don't even need to be ON the plane to crash it into a target.

    True....but the idea of this system is that it can only be activated from the plane and once activated it can't be disabled from the plane. For terrorists to remotely hijack a plane they would have to have someone on the plane to trigger the system. The question is whether or not they could remotely hijack a plane from the cabin, thus circumventing all the cockpit security enhancements. I think that scenario is more likely since a powerful enough radio transmitter on the plane could easily override anything air traffic control could put out.

  • by dbIII ( 701233 ) on Wednesday March 07, 2007 @10:46PM (#18271446)

    Liability is the reason there will always be a human pilot in the cockpit of non-military planes.

    Nice and smug above - but really automated systems are nowhere near where we would want them to be to make such a thing a reality. The simpler system of missiles of which a lot of resources has been expended is a good example - they don't always go where they are told. The F-22 dateline fault example should be enough to make a point. Pilots have training AND experience - a remote controlled plane can only deal with what it is programmed to do and what an operator can do given latency and more limited information than a pilot in the aircraft. A remote operator would be unlikely to be able to deal with a situatuion like an aircraft with all engines shutdown due to volcanic ash - which I saw as a pretty dramatic example of what a good pilot can do. A more mundane and very common situation is communications problems - when the aircraft is close to the ground and the transmitter is remote there will be times when the signal cannot be received - a major problem if the aircraft needs to be landed by remote control. What would happen if it needs to land at an airport surrounded by mountains - good luck landing with no signal and no pilot. Truck on the runway - good luck the remote control system dealing with that.

    This thing sounds good on paper in the war against terriers but is really a way to create far worse problems than the ones it pretends to solve. Hijackers now have to deal with entire planeloads of people that are sure they are going to die even if they do what they are told. If I was some sort of criminal trying to bite a major state where it hurts with this stupid new system I would just blow up a few easy to get to radio masts on the ground and get some suicidal accompices to shoulder charge the cockpit doors on a few planes - good luck getting the planes down - you really do need a manual overide for a pilot to use in an emergency.

  • by Zerbey ( 15536 ) * on Wednesday March 07, 2007 @11:13PM (#18271702) Homepage Journal
    Until something happens that incapacitates both pilots.
  • Re:RTFA (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Prof.Phreak ( 584152 ) on Wednesday March 07, 2007 @11:29PM (#18271838) Homepage
    No remote access allowed unless the pilot flips a switch in the plane.

    Now it just takes 1 person to try to tackle the door---and someone on the ground can take over the flight (assuming they're technically capable of it).
  • terrorist budget ? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by bug1 ( 96678 ) on Wednesday March 07, 2007 @11:51PM (#18272010)
    "This increases their planning overhead, their budget overhead, and possibly their coordination overhead. They also have to acquire more information from more sources, and possibly design, manufacture, and smuggle aboard additional equipment."

    Are you expecting terrorist organisations to declare their activities are no longer economically viable and "fire" their employees ?

    Maybe they can file for bankruptcy protection to stave off the inevitable... /sarcasm

    Seriously, i doubt the extremists these systems are targeting run their operations like a corporation, or care about economics.
  • by AJWM ( 19027 ) on Wednesday March 07, 2007 @11:57PM (#18272064) Homepage
    because so many factors (weight of airplane, temperature, wind, rigging of the control surfaces to name just a few) will affect the landing spot even for an autoland

    See, now I know you don't know what you're talking about even if you are a pilot. (I'm a pilot too, but it's not my job).

    The localizer and glideslope (let's skip MLS for now, although the same principle holds) are fixed with respect to the airfield. The autoland is tracking localizer and glidescope (and radar altimeter and yada yada). Weight, temperature, wind, and control surface rigging will all be factored out because the autopilot will make whatever corrections it needs to stay nailed to that approach. And if it's foggy out -- when autoland is primarily used -- there's not going to be much in the way of wind to worry about, is there?

    Different aircraft types -- a Boeing 747 vs an Airbus say -- may well touch down in different spots because of the different geometry of the aircraft, but -- until they introduced dither in the system -- all 747s would touch down on each other's skid marks.
  • by Ed_1024 ( 744566 ) on Thursday March 08, 2007 @02:23AM (#18273012)
    Different aircraft types -- a Boeing 747 vs an Airbus say -- may well touch down in different spots because of the different geometry of the aircraft, but -- until they introduced dither in the system -- all 747s would touch down on each other's skid marks.

    I'm pretty sure this is an "urban myth". Approach speeds vary significantly because of aircraft mass - this alone would change where the actual touchdown was.

    If you ran ten autolands under identical conditions in the same aircraft, there would be quite a spread: no need to introduce any dithering. Anyway, the last piece of evidence is that autolands are generally more restrictive in terms of landing performance (mass, temperature, wind, etc.) than manual ones on the same runway. If the accuracy could be guaranteed it would give a *commercial advantage*, something manufacturers would charge for and airlines would pay...

    I say this having flown older and the latest generation of autoland equipped jets - they've come a long way but there is still some to go. I did two autolands last week on a 777, both great but quite different in the way they were flown by the autopilot. You could program the automatics to land in almost exactly the same place every time but it would be akin to a landing on an aircraft carrier: not much fun for the passengers!
  • by sumdumass ( 711423 ) on Thursday March 08, 2007 @03:39AM (#18273346) Journal
    Their not supposed to be able to. I imagine what would happen is that the system wouldn't allow interception of the controls remotly unless something happened to trigure the event. In the event the situation occures, a complexed code would be transmited based on a random number generator and some predefined elements and would only responde to comunications that have solved the problem it presented. But you couldn't solve the problem without the rest of the code wich it located remotly were the control will happen from.

    I would be more worried about turbulance making someone fall into the door and trigring the sensors. Or something malfunctioning and setting it off at the wrong time. Suppose the pilot was hitting an air pocket or climing threw a thunderstorm at the time someone was standing and the remote kicked in right as the plane hit some windshear or something. Would it have enuugh time to react properly without risking the plane?

    I don't have a problem with outopilots at all. I have the concern with it happening on it's own. I can imagine a foggy night when the pilot suddenly sees something that appears to be a possible colision. A sharp turn or rapid climb and someone hits the sensor, the auto pilot kicks in and decides to level out and hits the object. (of couse there are several layers of complexity here.)

Some people manage by the book, even though they don't know who wrote the book or even what book.