Security Expert Raises Issues of Satcom Vulnerabilities

Security Expert Raises Issues of Satcom Vulnerabilities

Satellite communications systems have security vulnerabilities that may allow hackers to gain access to Aircraft systems, according to cyber security expert Ruben Santamarta, principal security consultant at IOActive Security Services, speaking at the Black Hat USA conference early last month. Santamarta and IOActive published a white paper that discusses security vulnerabilities in Air, sea and land satcom systems, including systems made by Cobham (formerly Thrane & Thrane) and Iridium. Today we are disclosing those details to help people verify those findings Santamarta explained.

Santamarta showed how he was able to gain access to satellite data units (SDU) and Inmarsat SwiftBroadband satcoms through so called backdoors and hard coded credentials in firmware. If we can compromise the SDU,he said, we can access the MCDU multipurpose control display unit through the Arinc 429 bus. We can finally reach a critical device in the cockpit.

While everyone in Aviation should take security seriously, this particular situation is not a concern, according to Ken Bantoft, v p of satcom technology and development at service provider Satcom Direct. A satcom connected to the 429 bus has read only access to the bus, to provide position information to steer the satcom antenna. You cannot inject data, he said. Transmit and receive [functions] are on independent buses. At worst you know where you are.

There are two parts to security,he added. There’s the security of the equipment. We make recommendations. We educate our customers and make sure they’re informed about good security practices. But they’re ultimately responsible. Second, we are responsible for our infrastructure. 

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Mohini Porwal [ B Sc] Trainee News Editor
Trainee News Editor