OK. I’ll crack. After more than a day of pestering by nut jobs, conspiracy theorists and even that rarest of species, other reporters in paid employment, about the guy who hacked the movies menu in a jet to make it fly sideways, I’ll offer a considered review of the claims.

They are rubbish.

The headline on the Wired story that is causing allusions to computer hacking being to blame for the loss of missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 says: Feds Say That Banned Researcher Commandeered a Plane.

The headline isn’t supported by anything in the story, and even its star of the moment , computer hacker security researcher Chris Roberts of Denver, doesn’t claimed to have “commandeered” an airliner.

Indeed, none of the things Roberts claims to have done are nailed down to a specific flight, and his narrative is allowed by Wired to wander in an undetermined manner between what might have been simulations, what might have been real events, and what might have been a discernible external input affecting the thrust setting of an engine in an unnamed type of jet for an unnamed airline.

A charitable view of Roberts’ amazing history of illegally tampering with airliner systems while in flight (using screwdrivers and clamps on the underseat in-flight entertainment boxes) is that he has spent six years failing to prove that a computer hacker can “commandeer” an airliner.

Sure, anyone who has been the victim of these boxes, which are placed perfectly to punish passengers for not paying for business or first class seats, might feel that attacking them with sharp implements was entirely reasonable behavior.

But there is no proof, despite the misleading headline, that Roberts has demonstrated a transfer of control from the cockpit to a passenger armed with screwdrivers, alligator clips and a connection to a laptop. Roberts seems to be saying he might be guilty of shooting his mouth off to an FBI agent, including special agent Mark Hurley, as recounted in the story that started the current excitement.

Or Roberts just wants notoriety. The actual quotations in the Wired story are confusing. Roberts is quoted as saying rather strong things, but then backing down when pressed.

The alarming thing about the requests for a view about Roberts’ claims is that none of those who called Plane Talking had actually read it in full. It’s not the best story Wired has ever published. It’s downright mediocre.

It’s bad enough when our phones and computers try to guess what we would have said before we complete a word, but now we live in a time when people don’t even read a story before knowing what it says — except that they don’t.

However, there is a fairly wide body of suspicion that MH370′s systems were “hacked”, not by someone in a seat, but by someone in the insecure electronics and electric bay that is accessed through a floor hatch immediately behind the cockpit on 777s.

The actual YouTube videos of how to do this seem to get pulled down as fast as they pop up somewhere else, but if you are determined, you will find them. The purpose of that physical intervention has been surmised, widely, to have been done by someone intimately familiar with 777 systems, allowing the blacking out of seat back entertainment systems so that any passengers who were awake on the red-eye from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing on March 8, 2014, could no longer see the map showing the flight’s progress along its intended path across the Gulf of Thailand, Vietnam and then up the east coast of China toward its destination.

That intervention was, it is suggested, also intended to fully disable the Aircraft Communications Addressing and Reporting System or automated status reporting system on board the Boeing 777-200ER, but failed to prevent its basic standby pinging of a communication satellite  at various intervals.

The last such sets of pings initiated by MH370 came seven hours and 39 minutes after lift-off, from a place where the geosynchronous Inmarsat satellite showed had to be about 40 degrees above the horizon.

Those signals came just when the claimed fuel load of the flight would have been exhausted, causing the jet to spiral down to impact, it is further claimed, with the surface of the south Indian Ocean some 1600-1800 kilometres south-west of Perth.

Yet with so many variables, and so many issues as to the reliability of this bit of data or that, the final sea bed location of MH370 is elusive.

Into this dark and imprecise riddle fly the conspiracy theories, and numerous stories that could be termed click bait.

Just like this story, which to use a marine food chain analogy, is click bait that feeds on click bait.

Peter Fray

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