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Published on : Wednesday, May 20, 2015
Chris Roberts was booked by the FBI in April following a United Airlines flight to Syracuse, New York, after officials saw Twitter posts he made discussing hacking into the plane he was traveling on. An FBI search warrant application filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of New York describes the investigation of Roberts for possible computer crimes.
According to the document, during FBI interviews in February and March, Roberts informed investigators that he hacked into in-flight entertainment systems aboard aircraft. He claimed to have done so 15 to 20 times from 2011 to 2014. He also said that once he had hacked into the systems and then overwrote code, enabling him to issue a “CLB,” or climb, command.
Roberts has accused the FBI via Twitter of “incorrectly” condensing five years of his research into one paragraph.
The FBI document also says the bureau’s agents and technical specialists “believed that Roberts had the ability and the willingness to use the equipment then with him to access or attempt to access the in-flight entertainment systems and possibly the flight control systems on any aircraft equipped with an in-flight entertainment system, and that it would endanger public safety to allow him to leave the Syracuse airport that evening with that equipment.”
According to Roberts he used a modified Ethernet cable to connect his laptop to an electronic box underneath his seat that controls the entertainment system. From there, he hacked into the airplane’s computer nerve center, the document cites Roberts as telling the FBI.
The document says, on April 15, United Airlines told the FBI that Roberts had posted tweets about hacking into the plane he was traveling on and possibly activating the emergency passenger oxygen masks. At the time, Roberts was traveling on a United flight from Denver to Chicago, then connecting to Syracuse.
FBI agents tracked the aircraft that Roberts traveled on from Denver to Chicago and found signs of tampering and damage to electronic control boxes that connect to in-flight entertainment systems. The boxes tampered with were under the seat where Roberts sat and the one in front of his seat, the warrant application says.
Roberts told agents he didn’t hack into the systems aboard the Denver-to-Chicago flight.