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I'm definitely new to the site so apologies if this question is naive but google turned up no answers for me:

I was reading this article and read the following paragraph:

As an example, Hypponen said he had recently spoken to a European aircraft maker that said it cleans the cockpits of its planes every week of malware designed for Android phones. The malware spread to the planes only because factory employees were charging their phones with the USB port in the cockpit.

The question that immediately sprung to my mind was:

What is the intended purpose of USB port(s) in the plane cockpit?

Was it really intended for charging devices like phones? That seems naively insecure.

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    $\begingroup$ Welcome to the site! Good question, it was actually just discussed in our chat room. $\endgroup$ – fooot Apr 27 '16 at 15:24
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    $\begingroup$ The fact that it allows them to link to the flight computers is unsettling, but yeah, pilots may have an EFB they want to keep running or something else electronic that needs power, but I don't see why they don't just install a "power-only" USB socket. $\endgroup$ – Ryan Mortensen Apr 27 '16 at 15:30
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    $\begingroup$ Related: aviation.stackexchange.com/questions/17621/… $\endgroup$ – kepler22b Apr 27 '16 at 15:36
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    $\begingroup$ A USB port that only delivers power (i.e. only for charging) is not a security threat. So, evidently, the USB port is actually connected to the on board systems. $\endgroup$ – Thomas Apr 27 '16 at 17:11
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    $\begingroup$ I would treat that article with a great deal of caution. This quote - Because the plane runs a different operating system, nothing would befall it. But it would pass the virus on to other devices that plugged into the charger is technical nonsense. Officers of anti-virus software vendors are not to be trusted when talking about viruses. There are several other quotes which suggest either "bending of the truth" or a lack of understanding. $\endgroup$ – Simon Apr 27 '16 at 17:54
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Some Flight Management System databases are updated via USB stick and require a USB port. Since navigational databases are updated frequently and require a simple way to make an update, USB (or memory card slots) are generally used to allow for rapid and easy updates without having to remove any panels. In some cases the port may be in the avionics bay however that is usually easily accessed as well. It should be noted that a recent change in regulation now allows pilots to update nav data, this question covers it well.

Was it really intended for charging devices like phones? That seems naively insecure.

Generally these ports are not for charging but the basic design of a USB port more or less always allows you to charge from it because of the nature of the port. The security on the ports is more about cockpit security. In most cases the security lies in making it difficult to get into the cockpit in the first place. It is often assumed now that if you are in the cockpit you should be there. There is of course many questions this opens up some of which have been answered here or would be good to ask about.

As iPads become more common in the cockpit for navigation and the such USB ports are becoming more commonplace on panels for charging but this seems to be more common in GA planes currently.

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  • $\begingroup$ But why would the USB port for software updates be in the cockpit? Seems like a better (or at least more secure) design would be to have it behind a panel somewhere, with the rest of the avionics. $\endgroup$ – jamesqf Apr 27 '16 at 18:09
  • $\begingroup$ See my edits above. $\endgroup$ – Dave Apr 27 '16 at 18:21
  • $\begingroup$ Thanks for the concise answer and links included. Good point that if you're in the cockpit you could always just crash the plane anyways, so being able to inject malware is petty in comparison, but the fact that the pilot/copilot could unintentionally be allowing hijackers into the software running the controls is still a bit scary (assuming the article is to be believed) $\endgroup$ – NeedAName Apr 27 '16 at 20:54

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