Investigators intensify focus on plane’s computer system

By J.J. Green

More Reports

WASHINGTON — Twelve days after the disappearance of Malaysian Airlines flight
MH370, investigators are intensifying their focus on the plane’s computer system.

New reports suggest key flight information was changed in the
plane’s flight management system causing it to change course.

WTOP first reported March 14, that Boeing had been concerned about the
possibility the plane’s systems could be compromised either in flight or during
the maintenance stage and had previously initiated the process of upgrading
systems to prevent breaches.

On Aug. 21, 2012, Boeing applied for permission to change the equipment to be
installed as part of an onboard data network system upgrade on the 777 series of

According to information listed in the Federal Register the existing “data network
and design integration may result in security vulnerabilities from intentional or
unintentional corruption of data and systems critical to the safety and
maintenance of the airplane.”

The bottom line, according to language in the Federal Register, “The integrated
network configurations in the Boeing Model 777-200, -300, and -300ER series
airplanes may enable increased connectivity with external network sources and will
have more interconnected networks and systems, such as passenger entertainment and
information services than previous airplane models. This may enable the
exploitation of network security vulnerabilities and increased risks potentially
resulting in unsafe conditions for the airplanes and occupants.”

Boeing began making the changes to the aircraft in November 2013.

WTOP contacted Boeing with questions about their concerns and the changes
regarding the aircraft. They have not yet responded to the request.

The investigation into what happened to Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, which has
taken multiple turns, has left many unanswered questions about what is known.

“It is a Malaysian government investigation. We have been working in coordination
with the Malaysian authorities through our (legal attachés) in Kuala Lumpur to
assist them with their investigation,” FBI Spokesman Paul Bresson told WTOP.

Numerous aviation, intelligence and security experts have offered theories about
how and why the plane disappeared, but the suggestion that the plane’s course
could have been altered, leaving the pilots helpless to correct it does not sit
well with Boeing 767 pilot Patrick Smith.

“It’s exceptionally unlikely that it could happen. An airplane doesn’t just track
from point to point to point without the crew knowing about it,” Smith said.

Smith, who is author of the book “Cockpit Confidential,” said “(pilots) know the
points the plane is tracking to and it happens at every waypoint.”

Smith also dispelled the notion that a plane on autopilot can’t be adjusted by the

“Even the most automated flight is very organic. There are thousands of decisions
made by a crew during a flight. Things can go wrong and things do go wrong, that’s
why the crew is there,” Smith said.

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