I almost spilled my coffee when I read my copy of USA Today Monday morning (first link). The front page had an article that was so full of critically-important ramifications that it really jarred me awake. I’ll share my thoughts about the article with you.
The first three links all describe a report that a computer expert, while riding in an airliner, used an on-board computer to hack into the pilot’s flight control systems and briefly take over the control of an engine of that airliner in such a way that he steered the airplane in a direction the pilot did not expect or cause (second link). You can find many other stories about this event via a web search. The first link states that the man, Chris Roberts, who performed this computer wizardry, is a “well-known cyber security researcher” and that story tends to make him look like a skilled computer expert who found a security flaw in airliners’ flight control systems and alerted the FBI about the problem. That makes him sound like a good guy. The third link reports the story about him in a manner which doesn’t make him look like such a good guy. However, I’ll observe that if he did this act and alerted the FBI voluntarily, it makes him look like a good guy or a publicity-seeker who did everyone a good service by letting the entire world know how vulnerable computer control systems are on airliners. You can read the articles and decide for yourself what your opinion is of his deed and motivation.
As a person who was born into a rural world that used rotary and wind-up phones with party lines and used manual typewriters, I am continually amazed by what computers can do and how easy it is for hackers to penetrate high-tech computer security defenses. It seems that all computers and software programs must have secret “back-doors” for this to occur. The third link offers very specific details about what software programs and computer techniques enabled Mr. Roberts to hijack part of an airliner’s flight control systems from a simple on-board passenger-accessible computer.
My first thought, because the USA Today front page also included ISIL’s capture of the strategic Iraqi city of Ramadi, was that every terrorist organization in the world has now read this story and now knows that it apparently isn’t that hard to hijack an airliner’s control systems while you are riding as a passenger on an airliner. The terrorists have also read the third link, which gives them a good head start on how they can do the same thing [This may be an example of how “freedom of speech” isn’t always a great thing. Some things shouldn’t be reported]. Do the words “suicide terrorist” come to mind when you consider what a computer-savvy terrorist could do riding as a passenger on an airliner? Maybe it would be a good idea for security reasons to disconnect all passenger-accessible computers on airliners and forbid passengers to use computers during flights until all “back-doors” into flight control systems can be secured.
My next thought was if a private civilian hacker can hijack a plane’s flight control systems so easily, think how easily a CIA, MI-5, FSB, Mossad or other agent of the top-tier intelligence agencies could do this same thing. ISIL is widely reported to be very computer-savvy. Perhaps they can analyze the technical “how to do this” description in the third link and extrapolate it to take over airliner’s flight control systems and fly them into oil rigs, civilian airport terminals or tall skyscrapers. Hmm. I wonder if this technological “back door” existed in airline flight control systems in September 2001 when two airliners were hijacked and flown into the Twin Towers? Maybe those planes were hijacked via wireless hacking done by a nation-state or non-state actor using wireless technology connections via other airplanes, a satellite, or embedded software in the plane’s own autopilot system. I hope you are not reading this as you are about to board an airplane. Maybe those airliners that hit the Twin Towers were remotely controlled and weren’t actually being flown by simple terrorists who had taken a couple of lessons in small planes but didn’t know anything about a large airliner’s complex flight control systems. After all, we know the CIA and US military have, for many years, used wireless control systems to fly drones on bombing and reconnaissance missions while their actual “pilots” are sitting at desks thousands of miles away. Did that same technology exist in September 2001?
Then I had another thought. Remember that missing Malaysian airliner which was headed for Beijing when someone somehow hijacked it and re-directed it into the southern reaches of the Indian Ocean? I wondered if that modern, high-tech airliner had the same passenger-accessible, on-board computers that were used by Mr. Roberts to hack into the flight control systems of the airliner on which he was riding. Could a passenger with advanced knowledge of how to hack into an on-board computer connection have been aboard the Malaysian airliner and then have directed the airliner to a destination known only to that agent? We have to consider the option that the Malaysian airliner was electronically hijacked and flown to a hidden landing destination because there has been absolutely no evidence found that it crashed at sea, despite massive searches by airplanes, ships and satellites. Contrast this result with what happened when a different airliner crashed into the Java Sea (I think it was) during a heavy storm and was lost. Despite heavy seas smashing to bits the remnants of that airliner that crashed, it wasn’t long till airplane parts and bodies were quickly located. If the Malaysian airliner had crashed into the Southern Indian Ocean, lots of airplane debris and bodies would also have been found rather quickly. This indicates that airliner did not crash. It landed somewhere. The only place in the South Indian Ocean on a map that it could have safely landed is the massive US military/CIA base on the British island of Diego Garcia. The facilities at Diego Garcia handle the biggest US bombers and transport airplanes. Their hangars could easily have concealed the Malaysian airliner as soon as it landed. I’m not saying that is what actually happened, but I’m simply using objective analysis. The authorities say it flew into the South Indian Ocean. There is no evidence of it crashing into the ocean anywhere. If it landed safely somewhere, the only “somewhere” it could have landed in the Southern Indian Ocean is Diego Garcia. If this is what happened, what happened to all the innocent passengers who were hijacked with the airliner? I don’t even want to speculate in print on the horrific possibilities.
Then I had another thought. Recall that German airliner that flew into a mountainside reportedly as a result of a suicide by its co-pilot? It is entirely possible that the “official” story is the correct one. However, today’s USA Today story (revealing how easy it is to hack into an airliner’s flight control computer) raises another posthumous possibility. Was that airliner electronically hijacked by a suicide terrorist on the plane who knew how to hijack it via an on-board computer or was it electronically hijacked by a remote wireless connection from a nearby airplane or even a passing overhead satellite? The co-pilot with depression problems would have been an ideal “fall guy.”
Then I had another thought. If it so easy to electronically hijack the controls of civilian airliners, how easy is it to do the same thing with military bombers, refueling planes, fighter jets, etc.? Are such US weapons platforms secure from such electronic hijacking? I’d very much like to think so, but the fourth link makes me worry about what may be possible. That link reports that Chinese cyber-attackers easily hacked into the engineering computers at Penn State University, which also hosts computers with very sensitive military secrets from the US Navy. After all the stories about Chinese and Russian cyber-attackers hacking into Defense Department computers over the years, one would think the computer defenders would have every possible access point defended by now. Apparently, that is not the case. I wondered: How many back-door poison pills, Trojan horses, viruses, alternate control programs, etc. have been secretly planted into the military equipment of potential enemies by every computer-savvy military force on the globe? How hard would it be to secretly hijack a missile, bomber, submarine, etc. and simply reverse the GPS coordinates for a missile or bomb’s launch and target locations? If that were done, a missile fired at an enemy would electronically “switch sides” and end up targeting its own military base or submarine launch site. If artillery pieces or tanks are computerized in their fire-control systems, how hard would it be to hack into that system with a wireless signal and reprogram the shell to explode the instant it senses that it has left the barrel? We’ve all seen movies were laser-guided munitions are used to bomb targets on the ground. How hard would it be to electronically hijack a munition’s software and reprogram it to avoid the target that was initially selected? There are all kinds of military questions to ask about electronic hijacking of an enemy’s weapon systems. If one can electronically hijack the computer controls of an enemy’s weapon system, that enemy’s weapon system can be used against its own force. If I, a mere civilian who grew up with party-line telephones and manual typewriters, can think of these possibilities, I wonder what Star Trek-like possibilities are being considered (or have already been implemented) by the real think-tank computer experts. Those people likely know how the Stuxnet computer virus got implanted into Iran’s nuclear program computers.
I have other questions that were prompted by today’s USA Today story, but the above is enough for one post. After all, I do want you to sleep tonight.
A final two paragraphs will give this a biblical context. Technology is neither good nor bad of itself. It can be used for good or bad purposes, depending on whether good people or bad people are using the technology. However, to anticipate the actions of the bad guys, the good guys need to be able to think like bad guys themselves. That means that both the good guys and the bad guys are thinking of the most malignantly-evil ways that modern technology can be used. That is a scary thought. Paul warned that in the latter days of our age, “perilous times would come” (II Timothy 3:1). Daniel 12:4 prophesied that mankind’s knowledge level would exponentially grow at the “time of the end” of this age. Genesis 11:6 reports that God, when seeing what the immediate generations of mankind were building after the Deluge, observed that nothing that mankind then imagined would be restrained from them. Mankind has always dreamed of reaching the stars. That “tower of Babel” wasn’t some mud-brick ziggurat. That wouldn’t have caused God to impose a radical “course-correction” to mankind’s activities to stop its technological development. God had to create new languages for all the nascent nations after the Flood to cut them off from the technological knowledge that was preserved in the pre-Flood language that survived the Deluge. The people building the Tower of Babel were re-creating pre-Flood technologies, and God put a halt to it, because Matthew 24:37 reveals that it was the Divine intent that only the latter day civilization of mankind would be allowed to mirror the pre-Flood civilization and its technologies. That Genesis 11 “tower of Babel” was some kind of an erect structure (think rocket or missile) whose “rosh” or head-most portion (think nose-cone) was going to “reach unto heaven” (think outer space). That explains why God had to personally intervene to stop mankind’s rapid technological development after the Deluge and confuse all languages. God gave everyone at Babel a new spoken language, but no written language. In other words, he made everyone illiterate and mostly unable and unwilling to pool knowledge. That single Divine act guaranteed that mankind wouldn’t re-develop the pre-Flood technologies for millennia. If you have any doubts that we live in the biblically-prophesied latter days, please read my article, Are We Living in the Biblical Latter Days?
The more advanced our modern technologies become, please realize that the further these technologies are advanced, the closer we are to catching up to the technologies of the pre-Flood world of Noah. If only people could realize how scientific and accurate biblical historical narratives and prophecies really are. It confirms beyond all doubt that there is a Creator God who watches our planet like a modern science student may watch an enclosed ecosystem which houses an ant colony. Just as a science student can changes the conditions of that ant colony any way he/she wants to do so at any time, God can do the same thing with our globe and all that lives on it–any time he wants to do it. Biblical prophecy indicates that in the latter days, God is going to reach the point where he will forcefully change lots of things about this planet and how life is lived on its surface. Most people have no idea how “interesting” the future years are going to become when God decides to overrule the leaders of nations and the course of human history. To get a glimpse into what may happen in the foreseeable future, please read my article, The Two Witnesses. When they arrive on the scene, as Revelation 11 prophesies, everything will change…fast. The nations will realize that there really is a Creator God and that they are like ant colonies on God’s planet earth. As Isaiah 40:15 puts it, “the nations are as a drop in the bucket [to God] and are counted as the small dust of the balance…” When the Two Witnesses come on the scene, the nations will realize how true Isaiah 40:15 really is.