DTNS Guest Post: Fallout from Airline Flight System Hack Will Result in Rise of Grumpy Pilots

Hey, it’s that Joe Pilot guy again. It just so happens I’m on reserve again and have a lot of time to write. It also seems like we have more aviation related stories these days, maybe?

I wanted to calm down the worries on this LOT airlines DDoS. Firstly, this is no reflection on your reporting, just wanted to give you a heads up.

Flight planning doesn’t have anything to do with aircraft flying at the time, it is simply the written/printed PLAN for the flight. It’s not uncommon (at least domestically) for these flight plans to change in the cockpit. That’s not to say it is unimportant; they are important because they are a piece of the safety net we employ at every airline to keep something awful from happening. That also doesn’t mean if the flight plan is wrong— or the pilots don’t notice it’s wrong immediately— anything bad will happen, it just means one level of safety is compromised, the threat is trapped and we move on. Airplanes don’t crash because Dispatch misrouted a plane. Pilots don’t blindly follow plans and Air Traffic Control (ATC) doesn’t blindly clear airplanes through bogus routes. Not happening. A hacker wants to try and affect safety that way? Lots of luck buddy. There’s two people up front ready to laugh it off (until the delay comes and then we grind our collective teeth while apologizing to the passengers). Delays will occur. Nothing more. I promise. We’re safe up there with or without dispatch, and even safer if we’re already on the ground.

What does a flight plan mean?
An aircraft dispatcher (not an air traffic controller) creates a flight plan with a specific route the company has identified as appropriate, looking at best planning techniques, standard or preferred routes, weather, etc. This route is created to estimate winds as accurately as possible to give the pilots on the ground the best idea possible of the amount of fuel required. The printouts help the pilot check against what he’s programmed into the onboard computers (FMS-flight management system), and once in air, check against fuel loads en route to ensure they are close to on plan. When ATC changes everything, this plan sometimes goes out the window but there are other procedures for that.

Why would this DDOS attack matter?
The flight plans are created at an Operational Control Center for the airline (OCC or SOC or OC or AOCC) and have to be transmitted out. The system can have a few glitches at this point.

One: the flight plan has to be transmitted to a network so the gate agents or local airport operations can print the flight plan.

Two: The system simultaneously sends the flight plan to Tracon and their Flight Data department. Flight Data (FD) is trying to fix flight plans as they come in. They usually only have a five-minute window but they’ll need about 25 seconds because they kick ass. Then they kick the plans out to the sectors needing the CID strips.

(I forget what CID stands for, but if you’ve ever seen a Netflix documentary on airspace since the you’ve seen them. We’ve had those same stupid little paper strips stacked on ATC desks across America since the 1980s.)

Every time a flight plan is sent, FD does their best to move the strip on or kick it out if it’s junk (which sometimes happens apparently). A good FD department probably kicked out a few of the LOT Polish flight plans the hackers generated but it’s unlikely they figured out exactly what was happening until it was too late, and there’s a possibility the FAA/JAA (Federal Aviation Administration in US Joint Aviation Authorities in Europe) computers were overwhelmed at the same time.

So summary: Airline OCCs, the FAA/JAA computers or the staff might get overwhelmed, but none of these flight plans have made it to the pilots yet. The gate agent or operations staff at the airport for the airline are just confused why there are tens or hundreds of flight plans in their software for LOT Polish flight 001 to JFK or whereever.

And then there’s the delay. Even if LOT Polish sends the flight plan by fax after printing it out, the FAA/JAA has to be called by phone and each flight plan submitted by voice. If there are 100 flights going out that day and OCC responds immediately, you’re going to start losing time because the dispatchers will start getting behind on their planes ETA with each flight plan that must be submitted. It would be MAYHEM.

I had something similar happen when I was an aircraft dispatcher at JFK a decade ago. Except for us, the national power grid went down and JFK was the last sector to receive power some 45-55 hours after the event. It was a brutal couple days of running to the Port Authority General Aviation building across from JAL cargo who still had power (generators) and a working fax machine.

There isn’t a good way to get around this problem, flight planning systems like SABRE (my quick research shows at least some of LOT’s system is based off them) or especially LIDO (a Lufthansa system) are completely integrated airline operational systems which do everything from crew scheduling to flight planning to ticket sales (amazing). If you attack those you’ll probably shut down a whole airline for a day.

BUT BUT BUT, what about the planes in the air?
Nothing. We don’t use those systems in the air. The messaging system (SELCAL / ACARS) is sometimes sent by the company. Other groups, like ARINC or SITA, can get ahold of us too as a backup.

So besides passenger delay what WILL happen?
You’ll get a disgruntled pilot. Here’s why.

The dispatcher can call on a dedicated phone line the airline already pays for and tell them, “Tell LOT flight 26 that the First Officer needs to phone scheduling on the ground for a change to his schedule, the company ACARS is down for a while.”

Then the pilot in the front groans after reading the ACARS message and tells the Captain. If he gets junior manned again into a day off he’ll quit. OK, he won’t quit but he’ll be talking about it 10 years later because he didn’t have that 72 hour layover in NYC like he was bidding for to buy some fake Prada bags for his girlfriend, instead he’ll only get 36 hours and get business class back home or to Denver.

And that’s the worse case. A slightly entitled and disgruntled pilot says something mean about the company to another pilot once every two months for the next ten years.

In other news, malicious hackers suck.

Joe Pilot understands his experience with ATC and dispatch is limited compared to someone who is a working professional in either field. Comments clarifying (or correcting) are welcome but take it easy, I’m not trying to present myself as an authority on all of aviation.

DTNS 2521 – Google “Oh Sh** Button” 1.0

Logo by Mustafa Anabtawi thepolarcat.comVeronica Belmont joins the show to talk about Google’s Unsend feature. Do humans have no impulse control? On the other hand is five seconds of delay even helpful?

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Show Notes

Today’s guests: Veronica Belmont

The Next Web reports Instagram has updated its app to let you find images by location. There’s also a tab called Explore in the US version that shows trending tags and features a curated selection of accounts, places and topics organized into collections. The update rolls out to Android and iOS today.

Continue reading DTNS 2521 – Google “Oh Sh** Button” 1.0

DTNS 2520 – Swift Justice

Logo by Mustafa Anabtawi thepolarcat.comBreki Tomasson is on the show to talk about Taylor Swift’s ‘victory’ against Apple Music. Is Taylor Swift the Music Industry now? The Internet? Un unstoppable force that has already amassed too much power and become a queen terrible as the morning and the night?

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Show Notes

Today’s guests: Breki Tomasson

Google officially announced its new site called News Lab today. Tech Crunch reports that the goal of the program is to connect journalists with programs, data and other resources. There will be tutorials and tips on best practices when using Google products in reporting. The site will also showcase Google’s new media partnerships such as the YouTube newswire and other partnerships with Storify announced last week.

Continue reading DTNS 2520 – Swift Justice

DTNS 2519 – Always Use a Condiment

Logo by Mustafa Anabtawi thepolarcat.comDarren Kitchen is on the show to talk about Global Solution Networks. Awful management buzzword for NGOs or the key to solving world problems? Len Peralta is in to illustrate the show too. Be nice to him folks. He’s from Cleveland.

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Thanks to our mods, Kylde, TomGehrke, sebgonz and scottierowland on the subreddit

Show Notes

Today’s guests:  Darren Kitchen, founder of hak5.org and Len Peralta, artist

The Next Web reports that Twitter is testing two new types of pages. First, dedicated pages for businesses where users can find information, images, related tweets and prices. And in great news for businesses, users can also buy products right from the app or web. The second page type is Collections, where you can aggregate products and places that might be of interest to your followers. So if you want to know what type of products Reese Witherspoon and William Shatner really love, this is your lucky day.

Continue reading DTNS 2519 – Always Use a Condiment

DTNS 2518 – 00000001 is the Loneliest Number

Logo by Mustafa Anabtawi thepolarcat.comJustin Young is on the show to talk about the many ways to save online journalism and how robots are stealing our hearts.

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Show Notes
Today’s guests: Justin Robert Young

Headlines: 

Mark Gurman over at 9 to 5 Mac has some sources who say Apple’s plans for Apple Watch 2 include adding a video camera with FaceTime functionality, a new wireless system for greater iPhone independence and new ways to be more expensive (also known as premium options). Battery life on the other hand is expected to be the same as the current Apple Watch. Apple will likely release a full next gen Apple Watch next year, but the camera could be pushed to a future edition.

Continue reading DTNS 2518 – 00000001 is the Loneliest Number

DTNS 2517 – Keeping Up With The Droneses

Logo by Mustafa Anabtawi thepolarcat.comScott Johnson and Raj Deut are on to talk about the Microsoft shakeup and oddly how it sheds light on the market for Virtual Reality headsets.

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Thanks to our mods, Kylde, TomGehrke, sebgonz and scottierowland on the subreddit

Show Notes

Today’s guests: Scott Johnson and Raj Deut

Headlines: 

Ars Technica reports Microsoft made it’s seemingly yearly executive reshuffle today, though ReCode’s Ina Fried thinks it has more to do with people than strategy. Former Nokia CEO and head of MS devices Stephen Elop leaves and devices gets rolled into the Windows group under Terry Myerson as the Windows and Devices Group. Kirikk Tatarinov leaves Business Services and Dynamics which gets folded into Cloud and Enterprise under Scott Guthrie. Eric Rudder is leaving and his education responsibilities will move under Qi Lu in Application and Services. All those folks leave today. Separately Chief Insights Officer MArk Penn will leave in September and take his insights to a Steve Ballmer backed digital marketing services company called Stagwell Group.

Continue reading DTNS 2517 – Keeping Up With The Droneses

DTNS 2516 – Password: Cake, Monkey, Fish Flag

Logo by Mustafa Anabtawi thepolarcat.comPatrick Beja is on to talk about announcements from Sony and Nintendo. Was there nothing good at E3 this year?

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Big thanks to Mustafa A. from thepolarcat.com for the logo!

Thanks to our mods, Kylde, TomGehrke, sebgonz and scottierowland on the subreddit

Show Notes

Today’s guests: Patrick Beja

Headlines: 

CNET called Sony’s E3 press event a mix of nostalgia and exclusives. Halo creator Bungie announced a new expansion for Destiny coming in September. Sony has exclusive deals for early access to Square Enix’s next Hitman, called Hitman, Street Fighter V and Call of Duty: Black Ops. Ubisoft’s Assassin’s Creed Syndicate will offer PlayStation only missions and the next Disney Infinity game will come with an exclusive Star Wars figure in a PlayStation-only bundle. Square Enix remake Final Fantasy VII as a timed exclusive for the ps4. Sega launched a kickstarter for Shenmue 3 which funded its first 2 million dollar goal in 9 hours. Sony introduced a first-person shooter called Rigs that’s exclusive for Sony’s Morpheus virtual reality headset. And Sony PlayStation Vue the TV service arrived in San Francisco and LA while Sony promised future al la carte channel purchasing options. OH and Last Guardian is coming in 2016. Yeah they opened with that bombshell.

Continue reading DTNS 2516 – Password: Cake, Monkey, Fish Flag

DTNS 2515 – We’re Doomed

Logo by Mustafa Anabtawi thepolarcat.comVeronica Belmont and Roger Chang join to discuss Microsoft’s announcements of backwards compatibility and Minecraft for Hololens at E3. And is it truly the best lineup of Xbox games in history?

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Big thanks to Mustafa A. from thepolarcat.com for the logo!

Thanks to our mods, Kylde, TomGehrke, sebgonz and scottierowland on the subreddit

Show Notes

Today’s guests: Veronica Belmont and Roger Chang

Headlines: 

Microsoft had their E3 press conference this morning. The crowd-pleaser was the announcement of backwards-compatibility fro Xbox 360 games on the Xbox One. Select titles will show up automatically if bought through Xbox Live or can be added by inserting a disc. A new Xbox Wireless Elite Controller was also announced coming in Autumn, no price. It is fully reprogrammable and even has swappable buttons and sticks. Windows 10 was announced as a platform for Valve VR and a version of Minecraft has been crated for HoloLens. Among the game announcements were Halo 5 Guardians coming 10/27, Rainbow Six: Siege October 13th, Rare Replay with 30 classic games for $30 August 4 and Rise of the Tomb Raider November 10. Also Cuphead, Dark Souls 3…. We’re going to talk more about this hang on.

Continue reading DTNS 2515 – We’re Doomed

DTNS 2514 – Two Can Stream At This Game

Logo by Mustafa Anabtawi thepolarcat.comJennie Josephson and Roger Chang fill in for the last day of Tom’s assignment! Lamarr Wilson appears just in time to talk You Tube’s new gaming site, and what a producer actually does anyway. Len Peralta is here to draw it all.

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Big thanks to Mustafa A. from thepolarcat.com for the logo!

Thanks to our mods, Kylde, TomGehrke, sebgonz and scottierowland on the subreddit

Show Notes

Today’s guests: Lamarr Wilson, Jennie Josephson, and Roger Chang

Headlines: 

YouTube announced a standalone app and website focused on video game related content. Tech Crunch reports that the site will be called YouTubeGaming and will launch in the US and UK this summer. The site will have pages dedicated to more than 25,000 games and will focus on allowing gamers to live stream their games while they play, just like Twitch. Not at all ominously for this show, YouTube says it’ll be rolling out changes to its livestreaming tool to “simplify the broadcasting experience.”
We’ll be talking much more about this in the discussion section.

Continue reading DTNS 2514 – Two Can Stream At This Game

DTNS 2513 – XBoxulus Rift

Logo by Mustafa Anabtawi thepolarcat.comAllison Sheridan and Todd Whitehead discuss Oculus Rift! Tom Merritt is on assignment.

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Big thanks to Mustafa A. from thepolarcat.com for the logo!

Thanks to our mods, Kylde, TomGehrke, sebgonz and scottierowland on the subreddit

Show Notes

Today’s guests: Allison Sheridan and Todd Whitehead

Headlines: 

Oculus unveiled the finalized consumer version of the Rift VR headset, ahead of E3 2015, which begins next week. According to Tech Crunch, the Rift will ship with a Wireless Xbox One controller and a small table-top camera to track LED markers on the headset. The Rift features removable headphones as well as space to let users keep normal eyeglasses on when the headset is worn. The partnership with Microsoft also means Rift will work “natively” with Windows 10 plus the ability to play Xbox One games on the headset.

Oculus also showed off a prototype of its Oculus Touch controllers. Known as the “Half Moon”, they’ll let you pick up objects, fire a gun, or point at things and include integrated inertial and 360-degree movement tracking, plus give haptic feedback.

Continue reading DTNS 2513 – XBoxulus Rift

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