Making jokes while on a plane doesn’t usually end well. Anyone who’s seen Meet the Parents knows that perfectly well. Apparently, security researcher Chris Roberts forgot about Gaylord Focker’s run-in with the FBI after the famous “Bomb, bomb, bomb,” incident. He was detained and questioned for hours over a tweet he composed that pointed out how insecure the plane’s systems were.
Originally planning to fly from Colorado to San Francisco to attend two security conferences, Roberts was picked up by the FBI once he landed in Syracuse, reports USA Today. He was questioned and barred from flying on United Airlines to his final destination.
On his trip from Denver to Syracuse, Roberts sent out the following tweet:
Find myself on a 737/800, lets see Box-IFE-ICE-SATCOM, ? Shall we start playing with EICAS messages? “PASS OXYGEN ON” Anyone ? :)
— Chris Roberts (@Sidragon1) April 15, 2015
In this tweet, Roberts, who is the founder of security intelligence firm One World Labs, references his United flight’s onboard communications, though he did not directly refer to compromising the flight’s systems. Authorities caught wind of the tweet and, when Roberts’ flight landed in Syracuse, he was questioned by FBI agents for four hours.
According to the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), Roberts wasn’t initially told why he was barred from continuing his trip to San Francisco. When questioned by the authorities, Roberts refused to hand over his computing equipment, which was eventually seized. His equipment included an iPad Air, a MacBook Pro, three hard drives, a flash drive, and a few USB sticks, all of which were encrypted. Roberts was allowed to hold on to his phone
— Chris Roberts (@Sidragon1) October 21, 2014
“Roberts was told to expect a letter explaining the reasons for not being allowed to travel on United,” said the EFF.
Talking to Forbes, Roberts wasn’t too thrilled about the ordeal. “Feds have known about issues in planes for years, why are they hot now? I’m a researcher, that’s what I do, I don’t go out to harm or hurt, why pick on researchers? If not us, then who will find flaws?” said Roberts.
United spokesperson Rahsaan Johnson told the Associated Press that it was in the “best interest of our customers and crew members that he not be allowed to fly United.” Even though Johnson said the airline was confident its flight control systems could not be compromised in the way Roberts described, United also barred him because he “made comments about having tampered with aircraft equipment, which is a violation of United policy and something customers and crews shouldn’t have to deal with.”
Roberts was able to make his way to San Francisco with a last-minute flight on another airline, though we’re sure this won’t be the end of his run-in with the authorities.
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