Tuesday, April 4, 2006

Who trusts computers?

When I first heard about the September 11th attacks, I thought someone had managed to hack into the aircraft systems. Turned out I was wrong. Actually, it's a relief to think that the only way to carry out this kind of atrocity is when the attacker is in the plane.

Bruce Schneier has picked up a story about Computer-Controlled Fasteners, which suggests that aircraft can be reconfigured remotely. According to the story, "everything is locked down with codes, and the radio signals are scrambled, so this is fully secured against hackers."

So that's all right then. Assuming we trust the computers. (Remember that attacks may not need real-time connectivity - merely a bit of malware that hides in the system until the opportune moment.)

So the security question is not whether the system is technically secure. There is also a risk that people will panic when a nut with a garage-door opener phones the airline and makes some specific threats. (Frankly, I wouldn't like to have the responsibility of clearing a plane for take off in the face of such threats.) Security experts are always telling us to design security in - but this obviously needs to include social attacks and fear as well as technical threats.

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