Theories and more theories abound as the hunt for MH 370 continues

17 March 2014

It seems that one thing is in no short supply when thinking of the missing Malaysian Airways Boeing 777 and that is theories.

Everything from aliens to terrorists and even the psychological state of mind of the pilot and co-pilot of the ill-fated flight.

The Sydney Morning Herald reports on the latest of a long line of theories that seem never ending.

SMH reports – Flight MH370 could have fallen victim to the world’s first ‘‘cyber-hijack’’, with a British anti-terrorist expert saying a plane could be taken over using a mobile phone or USB stick.

A member of a rescue team looks through binoculars during a search and rescue operation to find the missing Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370

A member of a rescue team looks through binoculars during a search and rescue operation to find the missing Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370

Former Home Office scientific adviser Dr Sally Leivesley said hackers could change the plane’s speed, altitude and direction by sending radio signals to its flight management system.

It could then be landed or made to crash by remote control, Dr Leivesley told the Sunday Expressin London.

More than a week after the Malaysia Airways Boeing 777 went missing with 239 people on board, theories are all family and friends have to explain the fate of the plane.

Flight MH370 vanished en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing. At the weekend, Malaysian police finally confirmed that the disappearance was a deliberate act and searched the captain and co-pilot’s homes.

Dr Leivesley, who runs her own company training businesses and governments to counter terrorist attacks, told the Sunday Express she believed malicious codes, triggered by a mobile phone, would have been able to override the aircraft’s security.

“There appears to be an element of planning from someone with a very sophisticated systems engineering understanding,” Dr Leivesley said.

“This is a very early version of what I would call a smart plane, a fly-by-wire aircraft controlled by electronic signals.

“It is looking more and more likely that the control of some systems was taken over in a deceptive manner, either manually, so someone sitting in a seat overriding the autopilot, or via a remote device turning off or overwhelming the systems.

“A mobile phone could have been used to do so or a USB stick.

“When the plane is air-side, you can insert a set of commands and codes that may initiate, on signal, a set of processes.”

Dr Leivesley said the hacking threat was raised at a science conference in China last year.

“What we are finding now is that it is possible with a mobile phone to initiate a signal to a preset piece of malicious software, or malware, in the computer that initiates a whole set of instructions,’’ she said.

“It is possible for hackers — be they part of organised crime or with government backgrounds — to get into the main computer network of the plane through the inflight, onboard entertainment system.

“If you have got any connections whatsoever between the computing systems, you can jump across and you can get into the flight critical system.

“To really protect your computer systems, you do not let anything connect with them and you would keep the inflight systems totally in their own loop so nothing whatsoever connects.

“There are now a number of ways, however, in which the gap between those systems and a hand-held device like a mobile phone can be overcome.”

The Sunday Express reported that last April, a German security consultant and commercial pilot unveiled a way to hijack a plane remotely using a phone.

Addressing the Hack In The Box security summit in Amsterdam, the consultant Hugo Teso said he had spent three years developing a series of malicious codes on a mobile phone app called PlaneSploit that hacked into an aircraft’s security system.

RMIT Associate Professor Cees Bil, an expert in aircraft design, said he did not believe it would be possible to hijack a plane with a mobile phone.

‘‘I don’t think so at all,’’ Associate Professor Bil said.

‘‘There is no way with a hand-held mobile phone you could do it.’’

He said it was unlikely that an in-flight entertainment system would be at all linked with software controlling the plane.

‘‘I believe this is very far-fetched and with all the regulations, checks and safety systems in place, I don’t believe something as simple as a phone can interfere with the security system,’’ he said.

The Civil Aviation Safety Authority refused to disclose whether there were links between in-flight entertainment and the control systems of planes. A spokesman said it would not comment while the investigation was ongoing.

Virgin Australia confirmed its in-flight entertainment worked via a secure, stand-alone system.

Meanwhile, CNN took yet another angle asking the question –  Why are we so gripped by missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370?

(CNN) — It’s been more than a week since Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 seemingly vanished into thin air. Clues are few and far between.

Yet we remain glued to the story — hungry, some almost desperate, for any tidbit of news. Why?

“I think the most fascinating aspect of this story now is that it’s become … transcendent. And by that, I mean, it’s no longer a story about an airplane crash; it’s a mystery story,” Patrick Smith, an airline pilot, blogger and author, told CNN’s “Piers Morgan Live.”

The story of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 has dominated headlines and social media since it broke.

By Sunday night, it was no longer trending on Twitter in the United States, but it remained among the top stories in Malaysia and India.

The never ending search continues

The never ending search continues

Folks are using the hashtag #MH370 to connect. And people are doing more than just watching, or reading, the news.

They’re getting involved.

Thousands of aspiring good Samaritans volunteered their time to scour part of the plane’s search zone using detailed satellite images posted online by DigitalGlobe, a Colorado firm that owns one of the world’s most advanced commercial satellite networks.

In fact, so many people joined the effort that the firm’s website — with its pinpoint pictures of everything floating in the ocean — crashed.

One volunteer, Mike Seberger, 43, found a fascinating image in a matter of minutes: the silhouette in the ocean has the scale of a Boeing 777-200, the same model of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370. His discovery can be seen on his CNN iReport page.

It’s both the flight’s commonness and its rareness that might have us gripped.

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One the one hand, many people travel by plane so can relate easily to the experience of flying.

Until the mystery is solved, who among us isn’t going to jump the next time we’re on a plane and feel a bump of turbulence? That’s what happened to Brian Stelter, host of CNN’s “Reliable Sources.”

“We tend to identify with these kinds of disasters, and so the fear of flying may go up for many people,” psychiatrist Gail Saltz said on that program.

On the other hand, cases such as the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 are extremely rare.

“This is a very strange event,” said aviation historian Carroll Gray. “It doesn’t lend itself to the normal sets of explanations.”

Such mysteries are “phenomenally gripping,” Gray said. “Things that are unsolved just sort of grab people, especially when you have the common experience of flying.”

Saltz agreed.

“They want someone to hold accountable. It’s a very disturbing thought, and right now we can’t figure out who’s to blame,” she said.

The psychiatrist summed up our fascination: “I think this nebulousness keeps us riveted.”

Malaysia Flight 370: The 10 big questions

Flight 370 joins some of history’s biggest mysteries

Map it: What happened to Flight 370?

Sleepless nights, agonizing days for father

CNN’s Nick Valencia, Alan Duke, Michael Martinez and John Newsome contributed to this report.

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