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The General Accountability Office has examined plans by the FAA and partners detailing upgrades to aircraft systems from onboard navigation to ground-based flight tracking and communication — and concluded more work must be done to protect them against hackers and other cybersecurity threats. Planes with more robust connections with the ground and other craft would be easier to track and harder to lose, but as the GAO puts it in its report, "this interconnectedness can potentially provide unauthorized remote access to aircraft avionics systems."
Critical systems are generally isolated physically and on the network from any connection accessible to passengers, but new systems that rely on Internet connectivity might create more overlap, the report suggested. The same goes for ground-based systems. Protection must be very robust in such cases, and many contingencies must be considered: a pilot with a hacked phone, for instance, or a backdoor into a router that handles both aviation and passenger data.
The improvements predicted by the FAA and the protections recommended by the GAO are still well in the future, though — don't expect any big cyberattacks on planes any time soon. But as those planes become more and more reliant on Internet-based tools, it's only reasonable to think it will happen eventually.
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