‘Human factor’ also a risk in flights, expert says on MH370

Edward Stroz.

NEW YORK: A top US security expert and a former FBI agent have spoken on the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 and the role of human factors in airplane safety.

The aircraft’s disappearance remains a mystery to this day despite an extensive hunt for wreckage and the bodies of the passengers on board.

Speaking on “Cybersecurity trends and the current cyber threat landscape” on Tuesday at the New York Foreign Press Centre, Edward Stroz, the co-president of Stroz Friedberg, a management firm that specialises in security matters, highlighted the many security risks in today’s rapidly changing, technology-driven environment.

Stroz, who supervised a computer crime-fighting squad at the FBI in New York before co-founding Stroz Friedberg, said although people enjoyed the benefits of technology, risks also existed.

Giving the example of driverless cars, he said hackers can access the computer system of a car remotely and take control of it.

He added that in the case of jet airliners and planes, pilots used to fly using more pneumatic and mechanical connections.

When asked if he had a theory to explain the disappearance of MH370, Stroz told Bernama that while his example of jetliners was not about manipulation, there was a time when people were concerned about it.

“If they did not have a mechanical connection between the control surface and the control, if it was not just a wire sending an electronic impulse, some pilots were a little concerned about whether it would work the way it’s supposed to.

“So my point was about vulnerability,” he said.

The plane, which was carrying 239 passengers and crew members, vanished on March 8, 2014.

Australia officially suspended the hunt for the aircraft on Jan 17.

Only 33 pieces of wreckage were found during the search, with investigators combing the deep sea areas near the suspected crash site in the Indian Ocean.

The plane’s disappearance has fuelled a number of conspiracy theories.

“I only know what I read in the newspaper about the example (MH370 flight aircraft) that you gave, so I don’t have a theory associated with that,” Stroz said.

“I would put one point in here: Whether we’re talking about driverless cars or airliners, it’s not just the risk from the technology. It’s the risk from the way the technology is being used.

“So the human factor, what we call the insider risk, the person who is authorised to fly the plane – and I’m not making any particular point about the Malaysian episode – but since we don’t know, we just don’t know.

“And there have been other episodes where we know that the human factor was the one that caused things to go wrong, that we have to be not just so focused on technology, but the human beings who are running the technology.”

Stroz said it was also a question of checks and balances, which was why there were two seats in the cockpit of an airplane.

“And if one is unoccupied, there are certain protocols to follow to get away from a single point of dependency, not just because there could be somebody doing something intentionally, but what if one person is at the controls and they suffer a heart attack or something were to occur?

“This is how we practise security. If there is a single point of dependency, is there something we can do about that?

“Sometimes there is, but it’s too expensive. And sometimes you just can’t get away from it. But that type of critical analysis is really what has to occur,” he said.