This morning, United Airlines grounded all its U.S.-based flights for around an hour for mysterious reasons. However, passengers on those flights reported that some of those planes' pilots mentioned a potential hacking that sent bogus flight plans to the planes' onboard computers.
United cited "dispatching information" as the cause for the grounding, but hasn't commented on much beyond that.
"United began delaying flights at approximately 8 a.m. CT to ensure aircraft departed with proper dispatching information," wrote United spokesman Charles Hobart in an email to Wired. "We resumed departures at about 8:40 CT and are accommodating our customers to their destinations."
However, it was tweets from passengers onboard several of those flights that suggest that someone hacked United planes and uploaded fake flight plans to the airline's computer systems.
Sitting on runway. Pilot inferring #UnitedAirlines has grounded all flights due to possible hack: fake flight plans found in system.
— Ted Benson (@edwardbenson) June 2, 2015
Andy from @UnitedAirlines is telling us that flight plans from planes in the AIR dropped flight plans. 10:30am (1 hour from now) next update — Chris Habets (@C_Habets) June 2, 2015
Of course, United hasn't commented on the insinuations of these tweets, although the airline continues to deny that anyone could actually hack their planes in the first place. This comes after the airline kicked security researcher Chris Roberts off a flight last month after he tweeted about security vulnerabilities on a United plane that he stated he easily hacked into.
United has a program in place encouraging security experts to find vulnerabilities in their websites and apps. However, that program specifically excludes testing the security of the computer systems aboard their planes.
Regardless of the cause of today's issues with "dispatching information," it does seem that airlines choose to ignore security vulnerabilities. If hacking an airplane is as easy as Roberts claims, United, as well as the other airlines, should welcome any information he and other security experts can offer on the topic.
Denying such problems exist, however, could end up costing the airlines not just valuable time and money, but potentially the lives of their passengers.
Photo Credit: Jim Larrison | Flickr