3 On Your Side

Do Wi-Fi and planes mix?

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Safety and security is paramount for the 100,000 passengers who travel through Sky Harbor Airport every day.

But a new security report was recently released regarding Wi-Fi hacking, and passengers say they're not surprised.

"I think there's always people that are up to no good,” said Traci Carter, who flew into Phoenix last week. "Even though recent statements have been made about it, I don't think it was ever beyond my suspicion that that could happen."

“Yes, wireless anything (can be hacked),” said Brett Farnsworth, a resident of Tempe. “But just like cars, those have the potential to get hacked into, but it's not something that it's a major thing."

According to a detailed report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office, "Modern aircraft are also increasingly connected to the Internet ... and can potentially provide an attacker with remote access to aircraft information systems."

Ken Colburn, technology expert with Data Doctors, told 3 On Your Side that the subject may be worth exploring.

“The GAO (Government Accountability Office) asked 15 cyber security experts to come up with worst-case scenarios for the next generation of airplanes,” Colburn explained. “They're really looking out on the horizon, saying, 'OK, as this technology progresses, what should we be concerned about?' This was actually done in the proper way."

After the report came out, the FBI and TSA reportedly issued a private joint warning to airlines to remain vigilant.

3 On Your Side reached out to American Airlines, one of the four major carriers, to see what the company thought about the warning.

However, American Airlines dismissed the inquiry, saying in a statement, "We are always in contact with both the FBI and the TSA regarding the security of our passengers and employees."

However, Colburn says the warning may be a little overblown for right now.

“I think a lot of people just instantly kind of jumped to conclusions that, you know, we've got this hacking problem on airplanes,” Colburn said. “And at the moment, that is absolutely nowhere near the truth."

The report specifically pointed to potential cyber vulnerabilities with the Boeing 787 and Airbus A350 aircrafts.

However, the report does not detail the process of Wi-Fi hacking. Regardless, Colburn claims even if a plane's Wi-Fi was breached, the plane's avionics have several backup systems that cannot be hacked.

“It's really, really a good thing that they're thinking like hackers as they talk about the designs, so that everyone that's creating the new technology that's going to be in the next generation of airplanes realizes that these are things that they have to address," Colburn said.

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