In tonight’s episode of CSI: Cyber, we saw yet another cyber crime. In this case, there was a cyber-intrusion of an in-flight aircraft. As a result, the hacker had an exploitable vulnerability in their possession that raises many concerns. In this article, we are going to go over what happened, can this happen in real life and at the very end, juicy gossip that may lead to new characters, new relationship, future story-lines and more!
So, shall we begin?
Everything below will describe the episode and if you haven't seen the episode, completely ruin it for you. Stop reading, go watch the episode then come back and join the conversation!
The preliminary stages of their investigation focused on finding a flight (ARG272) which went missing as the result of a few things:
1) An unapproved flight path was provided to the pilots to begin with.2) The flight provided multiple GPS signals showing what the show called “phantom planes”. Which as a result, masked the plane as they GPS was interrupted and the plane vanished with the rest of the phantoms.
Krumitz used GPS tracking to identify the last location tracked in the flight control database. This provided the team with their first set of evidence. An inflatable antenna was used as a software defined radio to spoof GPS signals which is why Air Traffic Control saw multiple flights. With that, the plane managed to get away without Air Traffic Control being able to locate them. Elijah then declares “It’s a cyber hijacking”.
Krumitz identifies that a ZERG rush strategy was used. Our hacker implemented a swarm to overtake his opponent, Air Traffic Control. If you would like to know more, Google “ZERG rush” and see what happens!
The first question raised was the GPS. Why is the GPS no longer being detected? As a result, they determined a device had to be on the flight to block all signals. With this information, process of elimination determines one of the 75 passengers is a hijacker. They immediately start vetting all passengers to identify whom may be responsible. We then see Artie Sneed return for his second (and possibly recurring) guest appearance! He offers his assistance in identifying why the plane disappeared. Once again, we see his eccentricity as he shows an imaginary plane in CTOC using crime scene tape. The team tests a signal jammer to see why the plane went invisible. With that, we see them able to block the cockpit but not the engines and as a result, a common signal jammer isn’t the culprit. Artie shows Elijah and Krumitz a white noise generator. Turning it on shuts down all technology in CTOC at which point they start scanning security footage to see who was able to bring a white noise generator on the plane. This brings Erica Chan to the center of the investigation!
With an hour left before the plane runs out of fuel, they start looking into a motive behind Erica Chan’s actions. Raven advises them that Erica Chan hacked a pharmacy for a large amount of morphine. Enough to kill someone. At that point, Avery determines it must be to kill someone. We then see our terrorist move next to another passenger and put something in his drink.
In the meantime, Krumitz and Nelson work towards identifying what they can use to locate the plane.
Artie then talks to Avery about a possible internship in Cyber Crime. They are then interrupted by Raven who alerts Avery that there is a US Marshall onsite wanting to talk to Avery. When the visiting US Marshall arrives, she advises that there is another US Marshall in Witness Protection on the plane. The US Marshall advises that Erica Chan is definitely on the plane to kill her witness.
The target is Natalie Ross who has been living under the alias of Rebecca Taylor who is a young girl that witnessed the murder of someone by a Chinese Tri-ad Lieutenant. For that reason, Erica Chan needs to incapacitate the assigned US Marshall in order to murder Natalie Ross ( aka Rebecca Taylor).
We then see Krumitz’s brilliant idea to locate the plane. The in-flight entertainment system on the plane uses a high frequency to communicate. To yet another dramatic point, Raven identifies the co-pilot’s insulin pump is vulnerable to the white noise generator. We then see the co-pilot go into a seizure due to his non-functioning insulin pump at which point the pilot quickly injects his co-pilot with insulin.
Back in CTOC, they were able to locate the plane using ground stations and satellites. At this point Avery asks the very serious question, why is the plane still in the air?
Raven identifies that Erica Chan doesn’t know who on the plane is the target by identifying a weak link in the US Marshall's who fell for a spear fishing campaign. Once again, our trusting human nature used to someones advantage!
Avery and her team hack the in-flight screen for seat 7C where the Marshall is sitting and send a warning. Problem is, Erica is in his seat. Erica replies back asking for the witness’s name, or she will crash the plane.
Elijah has two fighter jets attempt to ground the plane and asked them to report any change in status. Problem is, Erica saw the jets and started to crash the plane. We see the pilot attempt to communicate outbound but can’t. We then see the plane level off as Erica relinquishes control of the engines. Artie enters and explains that this is a known issue that hasn’t been fixed. As a result, they need to pull the on-board computer to restore engines back to the pilot. Avery sends a message to Erica Chan in an attempt to negotiate and buy time. Erica is clearly out of options so Avery decides to push her. Erica’s response is simple....kill one, or all.
With that, we see the team contact another passenger in an attempt to separate Erica from her laptop. Erica takes the engine control away from the pilot once more and a struggle between Erica and the passenger ensues.
Elijah then notifies Avery that the fighter pilots have taken tactical positions. Avery turns to Artie to see if it is safe for the pilot to disconnect the on-board computer. Just as the co-pilot wakes up from his insulin shot, the fighter jets notify the pilots and they pull the on-board computer. The pilot begins to level the flight off and control of the plane has been returned to the pilot permanently. They land the plane as authorities close in the plane.
We then see all passengers be examined and safely removed off the plane as Erica Chan is taken into custody. Naturally we see Natalie Roth make it off the plane safely. We then see the pilot issue a public statement thanking everyone involved in saving the plane, both in the air and on the ground.
All around a good episode but were the tire tracks found at the GPS location from Erica Chan? Or another culprit from the Tri-ad? Did she have help? We can safely say no. As Elijah states, the tracks are a few days old, so we can assume that Erica was there a few days prior, then left to an unknown location and boarded the flight two days later.
Can this actually happen?
Tonight's episode showed quite the cyber threat! Though we have seen planes be hacked in other TV Shows, never to this level of technical specification.
Something to note is that this is based on some facts that were reported by APTN News on May 15th 2015 (see here). With that being said, the primary method used by the hacker was to use the in-flight entertainment system to hack into flight controls using the on-board computer.
Naturally, the show took this exploit and added drama to make an interesting episode. As an example, the co-pilot requires insulin. As described in the show, pilots are grounded if they become insulin dependent. As a result, the incapacitated co-pilot, couldn't happen. While the general idea of the hack stays true, I doubt we would see this occur in real life.
But with that said, do you feel safe flying?
Now for the Gossip!
At the start of the episode, Krumitz and Nelson tell us that D.B. Russell is still out of town when they rush over to see Emmitt Smith. This is a few episodes in a row now that D.B. has been out of town. Where is this story line leading to?
At the end of the episode, we see Artie provide Avery with a patch for the in-flight entertainment system. He then asks Avery out which naturally is returned with a no as Avery would prefer him as a consultant. Artie is now on-board! Do we have another new regular cast member in the works? 2 new ones in two seasons...thoughts?
We see Krumitz on Nelson’s drift board as he wants to take Rosalyn on a video chat of DC at night. Artie then interrupts and Krumitz leaves the room. So the question is, where is this relationship between Krumitz and Agent Rosalyn Pierce going? Fingers crossed that we don't see a Spencer Reid fiasco (For those who don't know...you should watch Criminal Minds)!