June 06, 2006
HACKERS armed with little more than a laptop computer could conjure up
phantom planes on the screens of Australia's air traffic controllers
using new radar technology, Dick Smith haswarned.
The prominent businessman and aviator claims to have found another
security flaw in the new software being introduced in the air traffic
He has challenged Transport Minister Warren Truss to allow him to set
up a demonstration of the problem at a test of the technology in
Queensland to show how hackers could exploit the automatic dependent
surveillance broadcasting (ASD-B) system to create false readings on
an air traffic controller's screen.
The air space activist says he had been told of the flaw by staff at
the US Federal Aviation Administration.
"FAA officials have become aware that an electronics boffin, using a
second-hand or 'borrowed' transponder from a small (general aviation)
aircraft connected to a $5 data lead, a $5 aerial and a laptop
computer, can create 10, 20 or even 50 false aircraft on an air
traffic controller's screen," Mr Smith says in a letter to Mr Truss.
"This will create total chaos in the air traffic control system."
Australia is at the forefront of ASD-B, which uses the global
positioning system and aircraft avionics to automatically broadcast
information about a plane's position, speed and direction.
Authorities are poised to introduce the system for high-level
airspace, but are yet to make a decision on whether to use it at lower
The US is also rolling out ASD-B. The technology has been
enthusiastically endorsed by senior executives of the aviation
administration and the airline industry.
But Mr Smith, who is campaigning against the scheme and has raised
safety and security concerns about the design, said the system had no
way of verifying whether a plane was where it claimed to be or if it
existed at all.
He said the FAA was looking at ways of encrypting signals or setting
up multiple ground stations at each location to allow the traffic
controllers to determine whether a signal came from a moving aircraft.
This would significantly increase the cost of ADS-B.
"As we all know, criminals create viruses for computer networks which
have cost the world hundreds of millions of dollars," Mr Smith said.
"Exactly the same people are likely to create spoofing for the air
traffic control system."
A spokeswoman for Mr Truss said yesterday the minister had received a
lot of correspondence from Mr Smith on ADS-B.
"This recent letter is being considered and we will be writing back
formally to him," she said. "Mr Smith did meet the minister in the
past few weeks and we would point out that no decision about ADS-B has
been made, nor is a decision imminent."
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