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As you may know, on the internet there is the FlightRadar24 website where you can see the flight information of planes worldwide in real time. Although this is wonderful for those who like aviation, does this type of system not pose any risk to aircraft safety? For example, terrorists may well plan an attack on a specific plane by knowing its information.

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  • $\begingroup$ Reinforced cockpit doors, the related access protocols, and the post 9/11 assumption going forward that a hijacking will end in a crash, has pretty much reduced the hijacking risk to a much lower level, because the chance of success is way less. There have been very few traditional hijackings since, with 1st world airlines at least. The airplanes are "hardened" just enough to not make it worth the trouble. $\endgroup$ – John K Oct 17 at 17:20
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    $\begingroup$ MH17 wouldn't have happened if the Russian-enabled group looked at FR24. $\endgroup$ – Ben Oct 17 at 21:07
  • $\begingroup$ How does the position of an airplane aide in hijacking it? If you have a shoulder-launched anti-aircraft missile, you don't need a map of airplanes, you can just look up and find one. $\endgroup$ – zymhan Oct 18 at 2:13
  • $\begingroup$ "How does the position of an airplane aid in hijacking it?" Hypothetical (I hope) case: an organisation intent on blowing up a plane can see exactly where it's coming down and has a few minutes to find and remove the "black boxes" and perhaps other things of value before the emergency services or local military arrive. $\endgroup$ – Mark Morgan Lloyd Oct 18 at 11:15
  • $\begingroup$ @MarkMorganLloyd - How does capturing the black box after the destruction of the aircraft help a terrorist organization. The point of terrorism is to instill fear. Also, the transponder and ADS-b would stop working before the plane hit the ground. The terrorists could just find the FDR & CVR using their built in radio beacons. The only advantage gained would be to track the progress of their fellow highjackers in the air. But, the terrorists on the ground can do little to aid the ones in the air. Except to maybe alert an alternate landing strip to prepare for the aircraft’s arrival. $\endgroup$ – Dean F. Oct 20 at 0:32
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The short answer is yes it does. In reality, the amount of benefit Flight Radar gives to those that would exploit it for evil is negligible compared to the amount of good the technology provides.

The data for Flight Radar is drawn from ADS-b transceivers. It will only provide the present and historical position of the flight. The aircraft’s future position can only be speculated upon based on its flight plan. If a flight’s position is classified or of concern for national security, the ADS-b information will not be broadcast “in-the-clear”.

As far as terrorism, Flight Radar will not provide any more information than a good network of plane spotters would. After all, a cruising altitude of over 30,000 feet MSL would make all but the most advanced military equipment ineffective against a commercial aircraft. Below cruising altitude, line-of-sight weapons would make Flight Radar redundant to common binoculars and scopes. Terrorists aboard an aircraft would make Flight Radar a non-issue. Not to mention, the terrorists would probably try to turn off the transponder and ADS-b.

A similar argument was made for the use of GPS when it was first created. That is why the accuracy was purposefully limited by the government for the adoption by the civilian market.

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    $\begingroup$ You say "yes it does [pose a risk]", but then fail to give a reason why it is in fact a risk. $\endgroup$ – zymhan Oct 18 at 2:15
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    $\begingroup$ @zymhan - That is the point. Flight Radar does not pose any more of a risk than is already present otherwise. But, it can not be said that it poses absolutely no risk. Can any amount of intelligence or information pose a risk to aviation? Yes, it can. Yet, it is almost impossible to completely keep all information out of the hands of evil-doers. There is always a way to get the same information through other means. $\endgroup$ – Dean F. Oct 18 at 4:12
  • $\begingroup$ GPS was not degraded for security, but to preserve a strategic advantage. $\endgroup$ – bogl Oct 18 at 9:41
  • $\begingroup$ @bogl - You are absolutely right about GPS. But, I did not say that GPS was degraded for security reasons. Although, Denying the enemy a strategic advantage by limiting the information they can gather is, in itself, a security issue. Both GPS and now ADS-b still pose a risk that is beyond just a security risk. Both can provide an accurate way to relay the position of an asset or target to enemy command structure. Both can be used to track the movement of an asset or target. Both can also be used to guide munitions to that asset or target. But, so can a guy with a radio, map, & lensatic compass $\endgroup$ – Dean F. Oct 18 at 18:31
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The data FlightRadar uses is provided by volunteers using commercially available ADS-B receivers. All it does is save the terrorist a couple of bucks buying an ADS-B receiver.

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    $\begingroup$ That's a simplification, since my understanding is that FlightRadar24 aggregates the input of many ADS-B receivers to produce an overall report: "the sum is greater than the parts". I would, of course, be happy to be corrected. $\endgroup$ – Mark Morgan Lloyd Oct 18 at 9:22
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    $\begingroup$ The OP didn't really specify the threat model, unfortunately. A question about security really only makes sense with a detailed threat model of "securing what against whom". Major concerns with an airplane are hijacking and shooting it down. If you are hijacking the plane, you are already on it, and don't need FlightRadar. If you want to shoot it down, you only need to be able to receive the ADS-B when the plane is near you, to identify it, so one receiver should be enough. FlightAware uses the receiver aggregation for coverage, as far as I understand, not accuracy. $\endgroup$ – Jörg W Mittag Oct 18 at 9:44
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    $\begingroup$ A more futuristic threat would be hacking the plane. Well, if you hack the plane, and get access to the flight computers, you don't need FlightAware either. So, in no case does it give you any advantage. And even if we assume that FlightAware were to somehow give an advantage, they are doing nothing that an attacker could not do themselves, given enough resources. $\endgroup$ – Jörg W Mittag Oct 18 at 9:46
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Plane movements are, for the most part, planned well in advance. Not only that, an airline actually has to publicize those times in order for customers to be able to book tickets. Want to find what times EasyJet is flying from London to Paris? Look on their website!

The only way terrorists could be helped by having position information is if they had a surface-to-air missile and they wanted to take out a specific aircraft. However in that case they would have to be somewhere on the flightpath for takeoff or landing in order to have a shot. And in that case they can simply listen to the radio between ATC and the various aircraft to find where they are.

So it doesn't add any extra risk that isn't already there.

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