Senator: Amendment would make it impossible to hack into airliner’s onboard computer

A Democratic senator has filled a legislative amendment he says will make it nearly impossible for anyone to hack into a commercial airliner’s onboard computer system.

U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., filed the measure after a cybersecurity consultant claimed that he hacked into a commercial airliner’s onboard computer system and took control of the aircraft’s engine during flight.

Nelson, the top Democrat on the Senate Commerce Committee, which oversees the nation’s airline industry, attached his proposal as an amendment this week to the broader FAA reauthorization bill. That measure is currently being debated in the Senate.

“Whether or not we want to face it, we are in an era that requires us to keep certain systems in an airliner separate so someone can’t hack into one system and suddenly take control of a plane,” Nelson said in a news release.

The issue of hacking an airplane’s flight-control system came to light last April when the Government Accountability Office released a report cautioning that hundreds of currently-active commercial planes are vulnerable to hacking. Around that same time, a cybersecurity consultant contacted the FBI and told them that he had hacked into the onboard entertainment systems found on many commercial airplanes more than a dozen times and even once took control of an aircraft’s engine during flight.

Nelson says if passed, his amendment would keep vital airline systems separate on all newly manufactured aircraft to help prevent such an incident from occurring.

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