Attempted Hijacking of El Al Flight Foiled by Pilots Amid Growing Concerns over Aircraft Cybersecurity

In a recent development, Israel’s national airline, El Al, thwarted an attempt by “hostile elements” to take control of the communication network of one of its flights from Phuket, Thailand, to Ben-Gurion Airport. This incident marks the second known hacking attempt targeting El Al flights bound for Israel in the past week.

The Jerusalem Post reported that hackers targeted two separate El Al flights, both en route from Thailand to Ben Gurion Airport. Despite the attempts, no group has claimed responsibility for the hacks.

In the most recent incident, the airline confirmed that pilots aboard the affected flight became suspicious when they received unusual instructions mid-flight. Instead of complying, they switched to an alternative communication channel to verify their route with air traffic controllers, ultimately preventing the aircraft from deviating from its planned course.

Sources suggest that the hack may be linked to a Somaliland-based group, although no definitive attribution has been made. Somaliland, situated in the Horn of Africa, has emerged as a potential base for cyber threats targeting aviation.

The incident underscores the importance of cybersecurity in aviation, particularly in light of recent vulnerabilities discovered in aircraft systems. In September 2022, researchers identified critical flaws in Contec’s wireless LAN devices used on airplanes, enabling potential exploitation of inflight entertainment systems and internet access points.

Similarly, in January 2024, cybersecurity researchers flagged a critical issue in Airbus’ Flysmart+ Manager suite, highlighting the need for robust security measures to safeguard against unauthorized access to aircraft systems.

Addressing these concerns, the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) has released comprehensive Easy Access Rules for Information Security. These rules aim to enforce security best practices across the aviation sector, covering suppliers, airlines, airports, communication infrastructure providers, and air traffic control towers.

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