FAA imposes special conditions on 747-8 to prevent hacking

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Boeing must demonstrate that certain 747-8 flight critical domains cannot be tampered with by hackers under new requirements from the US FAA, which imposed similar special conditions for the 787 twinjet in 2008.

The FAA says the 747-8 and -8F jumbo "will have novel or unusual design features associated with the architecture and connectivity capabilities of the airplane's computer systems and networks, which may allow access to external computer systems and networks".

Connectivity to external systems and networks, says the agency, "may result in security vulnerabilities to the airplane's systems".

Current airworthiness regulations do not contain adequate safety standards for the 747-8's design features. To ensure that the security of airplane systems is not compromised by unauthorized wired or wireless electronic connections, including those possibly caused by maintenance activity, Boeing must guarantee electronic system security protection for the aircraft control domain and airline information domain.

The airframer must also ensure that electronic system security threats from external sources are identified and assessed, and that effective electronic system security protection strategies are implemented to protect the aircraft from all adverse impacts on safety, functionality, and continued airworthiness, says the FAA.

This latter special condition is particularly timely. Boeing is in the midst of studying various passenger connectivity solutions, as it mulls a standard offering for its aircraft. The airframer appears to be leaning towards Inmarsat SwiftBroadband (SBB)-supported services, after last year issuing a request for information (RFI) for SBB-based onboard telephony for the 787.

Keeping passenger communications separate from the cockpit is a crucial consideration for the entire industry, says Vijay Takanti, vice-president security and collaboration for Exostar, which provides manufacturers and airlines with security collaboration solutions, and is owned in part by Boeing.

"The passenger equipment, the equipment that is actually providing service in the cabin, is completely segregated from what is providing services in the cockpit. But there is some crossover and [the industry] is trying very hard to make sure the number of crossover points are very limited," says Takanti.

Boeing expects first flight of its 747-8 freighter to occur "early in 2010".