Airbus says software caused A400M cargo plane to crash

A400M crashWhen it was claimed last month that a security researcher had briefly commandeered a plane in-flight after hacking the in-flight entertainment system, there was quite a media frenzy and more than a little skepticism.

The true facts of that case remain foggy.

But now we have something a little more concrete.

As Ars Technica reports, the blame for last month’s crash of an Airbus A400M Atlas cargo plane during a test flight in Seville is being put firmly at the feet of software.

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Not, it’s important to underline, malicious software like a Trojan horse. Instead, it’s the rather more down-to-earth configuration of engine control software that was fatally faulty.

Something clearly went badly wrong with tragic consequences – four of the cargo plane’s crew were killed in the crash, and two escaped with serious injuries.

Let’s hope that the authorities discover what went wrong, and share information about where mistakes took place so such an accident can be prevented from happening again.

Airbus A400M

As an aside, for those who are interested, malware has been implicated in plane crashes before.

Spain’s worst air disaster in 25 years occurred in 2008, when 154 people died in an air crash just after take off from Madrid-Barajas international airport.

As I reported two years later on the Naked Security site, a computer located at Spanair’s HQ should have identified technical problems with the plane, but was infected with a Trojan horse. According to media reports, the plane should not have been allowed to take-off if the technical problems had been identified.

Graham Cluley is an award-winning keynote speaker who has given presentations around the world about cybersecurity, hackers, and online privacy. A veteran of the computer security industry since the early 1990s, he wrote the first ever version of Dr Solomon's Anti-Virus Toolkit for Windows, makes regular media appearances, and is the co-host of the popular "Smashing Security" podcast. Follow him on Twitter, Mastodon, Threads, Bluesky, or drop him an email.

4 comments on “Airbus says software caused A400M cargo plane to crash”

  1. MKW

    Fact check: The upper photograph of the crash is not the affected airframe. The twin engine airframe is the A400M. Upper photo dates to 2011

    1. Coyote · in reply to MKW

      That might be so but it doesn't claim any falsehood over the article. It is however enough to make the point about the severity of crashes (and yet there's certainly been worse). The article (as does Ars Technica) does point out the A400M in any case.

      Maybe I misunderstand your point – it certainly is possible – but I don't see how an image will change the meaning of the fact that a crash was the result of an error software (indeed, the picture of the plane isn't really relevant to the cause). I suppose a picture of a moth would work just as well for those in the know but most wouldn't know what I am referring to (and many that do might miss the link because there would be less relevant context).

    2. Graham CluleyGraham Cluley · in reply to MKW

      Thanks for letting me know. I'll fix the image

  2. archie kelley

    Several Airbus crashes in recent years have been blamed on the flight
    control systems which, under failure of airspeed sensors can "hijack" control
    of the aircraft away from the human pilot. These same failures on Airbus
    competitors leave the pilot in control. This has led to the saying among a
    few pilots, "If it ain't Boeing, I ain't going!"

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