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Government seizes man's computer without warrant for tweeting that airline systems are vulnerable to hacking


Pre-crime

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(NaturalNews) U.S. government authorities admitted they had nothing to fear, but they denied a researcher the right to travel anyway.

As reported by The Associated Press, security officials at United Airlines prevented a prominent security researcher from boarding a plane bound for California after he posted a Twitter message days before the flight hinting that the airline's onboard systems could be vulnerable to hacking.

The AP further noted:

The researcher, Chris Roberts, attempted to board a United flight from Colorado to San Francisco to speak at a major security conference there this week, but was stopped by the airline's corporate security at the gate. Roberts founded One World Labs, which tries to discover security risks before they are exploited.

The report said that Roberts was taken off an earlier United flight by the FBI after he landed in Syracuse, New York, and was then questioned for about four hours after musing on Twitter that he could get oxygen masks on the plane to drop down from their overhead compartments.

In addition, federal authorities also took Roberts' laptop and other electronics even though his lawyer says that so far, federal law enforcement has not produced a constitutionally required search warrant.

An attorney for the security expert said that United provided no details about why his client was barred from the plane. Rather, airline officials said United would be sending Roberts a letter within a couple of weeks explaining why he was removed.

"Our systems are safe"

"Given Mr. Roberts' claims regarding manipulating aircraft systems, we've decided it's in the best interest of our customers and crew members that he not be allowed to fly United," airline spokesman Rahsaan Johnson told AP. "However, we are confident our flight control systems could not be accessed through techniques he described."

Then why remove him?

Johnson said, "Mr. Roberts has 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."

In other words, Roberts was barred based on something he said on social media - something that even the airline has admitted could not be done.

Johnson further stated that United reached Roberts long ahead of his flight to inform him he would not be permitted to board. However, an attorney for Roberts said that when the security expert got the call, the caller gave no name and only said that he or she was from United. No callback number was provided.

Roberts attempted to call the number that appeared on his cellphone. It rang to a resort hotel, leaving Roberts to assume it was a prank call.

Warning that hacking could be possible

Recently, Roberts has given media interviews discussing how airline systems are vulnerable.

"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," he told Fox News.

Later, on CNN, Roberts claimed he was able to connect to a box underneath his seat at least 12 times to observe data from the plane's jet engines as well as flight-management and fuel systems.

"It is disappointing that United refused to allow him to board, and we hope that United learns that computer security researchers are a vital ally, not a threat," Nate Cardozo, a staff attorney with the San Francisco-based Electronic Frontier Foundation, which represents Roberts, told the AP.

Wired reported on April 15 that federal intelligence officials have warned airlines that some systems might be vulnerable to hacking via onboard Wi-Fi networks.

In issuing their warnings, the FBI and TSA said they have no hard evidence that such systems are vulnerable, but they are taking some of these claims seriously.

Sources:

http://hosted.ap.org

http://www.wired.com

http://www.bbc.com

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