Twitter Joke Gets Security Expert Kicked Off Plane, Detained By FBI
A computer security expert was barred from boarding a United Airlines flight and detained by the FBI after joking on Twitter about hacking a plane’s communications systems.
Chris Roberts, a founder of the security intelligence firm One World Labs, sent the Tweet during a flight to Syracuse Wednesday, where he was met by FBI agents who questioned him and confiscated several electronic devices, according to the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a cyber rights group that is providing his legal defense.
The tweet in question read: “Find myself on a 737/800, lets see Box-IFE-ICE-SATCOM, ? Shall we start playing with EICAS messages? “PASS OXYGEN ON” Anyone ? :)”
In layman’s terms, Roberts was referencing his familiarity with the plane’s communications systems, and suggesting that he could manipulate them to the point of making oxygen masks deploy. (RELATED: Hacking X-Ray Machines Could Get Guns Through Airport Security)
Roberts appeared chastened by his encounter with the FBI, tweeting after the ordeal: “Lesson from this evening, don’t mention planes … the Feds ARE listening, nice crew in Syracuse, left there naked of electronics.”
When Roberts subsequently attempted to board another United flight bound for San Francisco on Saturday, “United corporate security personnel stopped him from boarding the plane,” telling him he would receive an explanation in a letter from the airline. (RELATED: Passenger Kicked Off Flight for Tweeting About Rude Gate Agent)
Rahsaan Johnson, a United Airlines spokesman, told USA Today that the airline decided to bar Roberts from the flight “because he had made public statements about having manipulated airfare equipment and aircraft systems.”
“That’s something we just can’t have … it’s not something we want our in-flight crews and customers to deal with,” Johnson said, adding that, “We reached out to [Roberts] several hours before departure and had a conversation with him.”
EFF, however, calls United’s decision “both disappointing and confusing,” pointing out that, “As a member of the security research community, his job is to identify vulnerabilities in networks so that they can be fixed.” (RELATED: Airport Security Breached 25,000 Times Since 2001)
Instead of such “knee-jerk responses” that intimidate security experts, EFF says it would “like to see companies recognize that researchers who identify problems with their products in order to have them fixed are their allies.”
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