For the first time, an aircraft has been taken over by a hacker rather than a hijacker. In a bizarre incident over Eastern Europe yesterday, the captain of a passenger jet suddenly found that he was no longer in control of his plane.
A cryptic message, “ALL YOUR BASE ARE BELONG TO US” flashed up on his multi-purpose instrument display; then the autopilot developed a mind of its own, and began behaving erratically. “It was like the plane was being flown by a first-timer in the simulator,” reported air-traffic instructor Gregor Yaneski.
The captain found himself struggling against the autopilot, which refused to disengage. Every dangerous manoeuvre had to be physically counteracted. No sooner was the plane steadied, than another crazy move would be attempted.
“It’s like the devil is in the machine!” can be clearly heard on the cockpit voice recorder.
Investigators are still uncertain if this was a targeted attack by cyber terrorists, hoping to bring down an aircraft by remote means, or a simple virus that allowed the plane’s computer to be controlled by some other input mechanism. Either is a frightening scenario.
“It’s possible that some kid playing Flight Simulator on the internet was completely unaware that he was controlling a live aircraft,” commented Yeager Andrews, who is heading up the investigation, “but I doubt it.”
Fortunately for the crew and passengers, the co-pilot had the presence of mind to locate and yank out the fuse for the on-board computer. Once the computer had crashed, the flight crew was able to direct the plane to an emergency landing at a military airport in Poland.
Everyone on board emerged unharmed, except for a few passengers who sustained minor injuries when they were flung about the cabin.
Flights across the EU were temporarily grounded when the incident began. It is believed that pilots have been briefed on a ‘kill-switch’ method if they find themselves under this kind of attack; however security and defence authorities are calling for more secure electronic control systems for all aircraft.
Ironically, the military were the first to use unmanned aircraft, and tech students to fly them.