Last updated: 12:04 PM ET, Sun April 19 2015

Airline Security Researcher Blocked from Flight After Worrisome Tweets

Impacting Travel | Michael Isenbek | April 19, 2015

Airline Security Researcher Blocked from Flight After Worrisome Tweets

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Prominent security researcher Chris Roberts was stopped from boarding a United flight from Colorado bound for San Francisco late Saturday, in light of a recent social media post where he suggested that an airliner’s onboard systems could be hacked, the Associated Press (AP) reported.

A lawyer representing Roberts told the AP that United gave no details regarding his booting from Saturday’s flight, and said he would be getting a full explanation via letter in two weeks.

Roberts is the founder of One World Labs, an organization that seeks security risks before they can be exploited, and is no stranger to being forbidden from flying. On Wednesday, he was taken off another United flight and questioned by the FBI for four hours after a joking tweet that implied that he could get the plane’s oxygen masks to deploy. His laptop and other electronic devices in his possession were also seized.

"Given Mr. Roberts' claims regarding manipulating aircraft systems, we've decided it's in the best interest of our customers and crew members that he not be allowed to fly United," airline spokesman Rahsaan Johnson said to the AP. "However, we are confident our flight control systems could not be accessed through techniques he described."

According to the AP, Johnson did not respond when asked why Roberts would still be considered a threat if it wasn’t possible for him to compromise United's control systems.

In recent media interviews, Roberts has spoken about the possibility of engines being turned off mid-flight by malicious hackers, and how he was able to acquire crucial aircraft flight data with his own homemade device.

"It is disappointing that United refused to allow him to board, and we hope that United learns that computer security researchers are a vital ally, not a threat," said Nate Cardozo, staff attorney with the San Francisco’s Electronic Frontier Foundation, a representative of Roberts to the AP.

Last week, The Government Accountability Office said some commercial airliners could be vulnerable to hacking over onboard wireless networks. "Modern aircraft are increasingly connected to the Internet. This interconnectedness can potentially provide unauthorized remote access to aircraft avionics systems," the report found.

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