You know that B-movie you watched on the plane on your last trip? Turns out hackers may be able to use a passenger jet’s in-flight entertainment system and Wi-Fi to access the jet’s satellite communications equipment.

Ruben Santamarta, a cyber security researcher, has come up with a way to do just that. Santamarta intends to present his research to the Black Hat security conference in Las Vegas this week. Anticipation is high with Reuters saying his talk “is expected to be one of the most widely watched at the conference.”

Should you be worried? It’s too early to tell for sure. Santamarta admits he doesn’t know how practical his hack would be in real world circumstances. He has only been able to create the exploit in a lab setting.

The hack could give would be hackers access to a plane’s avionics equipment and affect navigation.

Still, we won’t know the true nature of the exploit until he presents his findings this week. This type of satellite communications gear is common throughout the world. “Ships, aircraft, military personnel, emergency services, media services, and industrial facilities (oil rigs, gas pipelines, water treatment plants, wind turbines, substations, etc) could all be impacted by these vulnerabilities,” reads a description of Santamarta’s talk.

Once exploited, these devices are incredibly easy to tamper with. “These devices are wide open. The goal of this talk is to help change that situation,” Santamarta tells Reuters.

Santamarta hopes that by going public, manufacturers can fix any issues relatively quickly.

Reuters reports that several companies, including Cobham, Hughes and Iridium, have confirmed Santamarta’s findings, but are downplaying the severity of the exploit.

This week’s Black Hat conference has made a name for itself as researchers present cyber security research. Apple released a patch back in 2009 after two researchers showed how you could attack iPhones with malicious text messages.

We’ll see if the manufacturers of satellite communication gear are as quick to fix any potential exploits.

You can check out descriptions of all the Black Hat presentations happening this week here.


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