Chris Roberts (World Labs’ IT security expert) who recently identified risks in airplane in-flight entertainment systems became the target of FBI investigation himself.
On Wednesday he was pulled off by two uniformed officials and two FBI officers from a United Airlines Boeing 737-800 commercial flight. All of his electronics were also confiscated by the officials.
Chris Roberts is amongst world’s leading security experts in counter-threat intelligence domain of the cybersecurity industry. He is also the one who blew whistle regarding the weaknesses he identified in USA’s in-flight tech systems. His findings were released in a series of reports on Fox News in a program titled “On the Record with Greta Van Susteren.” The shows were on air from March 19th to April 15th, 2015.
Roberts is associated with the Colorado-based security intelligence firm “One World Labs“, which identifies vulnerabilities and threats before they are exploited.
This Wednesday night, Roberts was pulled off from a United Airlines flight right after the plane landed in Syracuse. Roberts had to spend next few hours with the FBI agents and police officers who questioned him regarding the in-flight cyberhacking, according to Fox News report.
This interrogation started just a few hours after a report on Robert’s findings was published by Fox News. In the report Roberts stated:
“We can still take planes out of the sky thanks to the flaws in the in-flight entertainment systems. Quite simply put, we can theorize on how to turn the engines off at 35,000 feet and not have any of those damn flashing lights go off in the cockpit.” “If you don’t have people like me researching and blowing the whistle on system vulnerabilities, we will find out the hard way what those vulnerabilities are when an attack happens.”
A GAO report published this Tuesday also backed the findings of Roberts and another security expert, who was also mentioned in the Fox News report.
He brought to notice of concerned authorities the risks associated with financial and intellectual property and client data with such types of attacks. He has been in talk with several different private as well as government clients to address the issue.
Roberts has also served as an in-house security expert and IT security, engineering, design and architecture consultant for numerous Fortune 500 firms. Until now, Roberts has worked in retail, finance, services and energy sectors.
Roberts quite regularly shares information about critical security issues that pose a threat to national security with various governmental agencies. It is also ironic that he met with FBI agents at least thrice after the agency requested him for his guidance on securing airplanes from cyberattackers.
However, on Wednesday night Roberts was treated rather differently. The FBI agents confiscated his electronic devices including his laptop and thumb drives along with his computer files and asked him to allow them access to his private data. They needed a forensic image of the laptop but he couldn’t do that as the laptop was company-owned and had confidential client data, intellectual and research property. It was sensitive and encrypted data that couldn’t be shared just like that.
Therefore, Roberts had no other choice but to consult his CEO and informed FBI agents that he cannot allow access unless they show a warrant, which they didn’t had.
FBI agents revealed that fellow passengers were also questioned. Moreover, they also had forensically examined the airplane to identify if there were any tempered areas.
“You have one element in the FBI reaching out to people like me for help, but another element doing a hell of a job burning those bridges. Those of us who do threat research are doing it for the right reasons, and we work to build relationships with the intelligence community because we want to help them identify weaknesses before they become a problem.”
Roberts was travelling from from Denver to Syracuse to meet a defence contractor (who had invited him). He was supposed to speak at an aerospace conference regarding airplane systems’ vulnerabilities.
Roberts is unsure about what’s in store for him now and how will he create his presentation to the defence industry, when he doesn’t have any of his electronic devices. So, he had to return back to Denver but ironic ironically he was pre-checked through TSA. He said:
“The TSA has already dug into my background and cleared me for the pre-check.