Was the Malaysian Plane Hacked? Probably Not

2672775_ml featureThe mysterious vanishing of the Malaysian flight raised a startling amount of rumors and theories of all kinds. While most are at least somewhat feasible, the recent cyber attack theory is closer to science fiction

By Maty Kishinevsky and Natalie Novitski

Over the last few days a new thoery concerning the disappearance of the Malaysian flight popped up: Hostile elements managed to take over a cellular phone on the plane, using it to connect to the plane’s avionics and bring the aircraft down. This feat is almost impossible even when the target is a ground vehicle, and when the target is airborne things get even more complicated.The plane itself uses radio to communicate with ground stations, but mobile devices use other means of communications. “There’s a way to control a phone remotely, but the device has to be connected to a network – cellular or internet.” This according to Avi Rosen, CEO and co-founder of cellular security developer Kaymera. “If you’re outside cellular reception range, or if you don’t have a stable internet connection on the plane, there’s no way to infiltrate the phone and remotely control it.”

For a cellular device to connect to a network the aircraft has to fly at relatively low altitudes – less than 6,000 feet – while the actual altitude for passenger planes is closer to 35,000 feet. The Malaysian plane is a heavy aircraft, flying at high altitudes to maintain stability. Maintaining low altitudes for a prolonged period of time, enough to allow for a stable connection to mobile devices, is almost impossible.

Foreign elements taking over vehicles is not a new phenomenon. Students from the University of Texas, for example, have demonstrated a method for taking over sailing vessels. Another conspiracy theory surrounds the death of American journalist Michael Hastings, who investigated the NSA spy program and was killed in a deadly traffic accident. At the time there were rumors of government agents being responsible for his death by hacking his car. The possiblity of hacking passenger planes is certainly an exciting one, but in this case also an impossibility.

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