Security researcher Ruben Santamarta's presentation at this week's annual Black Hat conference in Las Vegas will be among the most widely watched. That's because he plans to outline methods that he claims could be used to hack an aircraft's satellite communications equipment using the in-flight Wi-Fi and entertainment systems that all passengers have access to.
Santamarta recently told Reuters that he found these vulnerabilities by reverse engineering the firmware used on satellite communications equipment from companies like Cobham Plc, Harris Corp, EchoStar Corp's Hughes Network Systems, Iridium Communications Inc and Japan Radio Co Ltd.
Using his methods, a hacker could - in theory - gain access to a passenger jet's avionics equipment and potentially disrupt or modify satellite communications. This could - in theory - interfere with a plane's navigation and safety systems.
The researcher is the first to admit that his methods may be difficult to pull off in the real world but they have proven successful in controlled environments.
The reason for going public with these findings, Santamarta said, is to try and convince avionics equipment manufacturers to fix what he deems as risky security flaws. But not everyone sees the findings as risky.
Representatives for some of the companies listed above said they've reviewed Santamarta's research and while they did confirm some of the findings, all of the companies downplayed the risk involved. For example, Cobham said it simply isn't possible for hackers to use Wi-Fi to interfere with critical satellite systems.