Speaking at the Defcon 22 conference in Las Vegas Dr. Phil Polstra and Polly Kadolph explained in detail why some types of attacks are impossible and others are exceptionally unlikely to succeed.
The Register covers some of the technical detail but see below for a non-technical summary:
- You can't hack the entertainment system and then connect to more important systems, such as the flight controller.
- There is no way to access critical systems using wireless networks.
- The way an aircraft's networks are set up means that they are not compatible with the sort of networks familiar to most computer experts.
- All major control systems can be operated manually by the pilot(s).
- Pilots won't just blindly follow what they are told by air traffic control (ATC), or someone pretending to be ATC.
- Pilots always have control of the plane, even if its electronics fail or fall under someone else's control.
- The auto-pilot can be turned off.
There has been some recent media coverage about plane hacking, but this sort of thing has been discussed for a few years. In 2011 a researcher claimed to have accessed a Boeing 747 engine control system via the entertainment system.