Gogo Inflight WiFi Boosts Security with Bug Bounty Program

Security researchers can now look for security flaws in Gogo's in-flight internet and entertainment system, with the promise of getting paid up to $1,500 per vulnerability.

There is now an authorized way for security researchers to help improve in-flight security for connected internet and entertainment systems, operated by Gogo. The Gogo bug bounty program, operated by Bugcrowd, rewards security researchers between $100 and $1,500 per bug that is properly disclosed.

"Gogo has a robust security program already in place and they were ready to add a public bounty program as an additional line of cybersecurity defense," Casey Ellis, CEO and founder, Bugcrowd told eWEEK.

The goal of the Gogo bug bounty program is to help make sure that Gogo's platform is secure and not at risk from vulnerabilities. The scope of the program includes both Gogo's ground-based public website as well as in-flight system. Ellis noted that researchers can test the live Gogo inflight system while on Gogo-enabled flights.

"The gogoinflight.com domain and sub-domains act as an internet gateway proxy and also serve video content to customers on the plane," Ellis said.

The bug bounty program has some limits in place and is restricted to the gogoair.com and gogoinflight.com domains. Ellis commented that any domain or property of Gogo that is not listed in the targets section of the Gogo bug bounty program would be considered out of scope.

"However, if a researcher believes they've found a security issue, we always encourage them to submit it and state their case, as the ultimate goal is improved security," Ellis said. "While submissions out of scope may not be eligible for a reward, we always escalate issues of high priority to the client for evaluation - regardless of scope."

Another type of attack that is in fact 'out of scope' for the Gogo program is Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS). Ellis explained that DDoS is generally treated as a 'known issue' since everyone is vulnerable to DDoS because of the way the internet works. He added that DDoS is not usually caused by any unique vulnerability or weakness.

"As such, demonstrating a DDoS vulnerability provides no value to the vendor and, of course, is disruptive to the business," Ellis said. "This is why it's typically excluded."

Hacking in-flight internet and connected entertainment systems hasn't always been met with encouragement. On December 20, security firm IOactive publicly reported that it found multiple security flaws in Panasonic's Avionic In-Flight Entertainment (IFE) system that could potentially give an attacker unauthorized access. Panasonic has disputed the allegations stating that the IOactive research was mis-leading.

In 2015, security researcher Chris Roberts also made claims about being was able to hack into an aircraft's in-flight systems, which led to an FBI investigation.

Ellis noted that the Gogo program is different than past in-flight security research in several areas, most notably the fact that Gogo is using a managed bug bounty program. Ellis said that Roberts didn't have permission to test the systems in the first place, and was therefore in violation of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA) and other laws. Additionally, Ellis noted that Roberts sent Twitter messages that referred to his ability to access flight control systems, not just the entertainment systems themselves, which puts that hack in a completely different category.

"Permission and exemption from legal pursuit is granted as a function of the disclosure program itself," Ellis said about the Gogo bug bounty program. "The context is limited to the entertainment and internet systems only, so it's clear to researchers that systems other than these are off-limits."

The Gogo bug bounty program officially opened up to researcher submissions on December 22 and currently has 413 participants. To date, Gogo has already issued six awards to researchers for finding and reporting flaws as part of the bug bounty program. As part of the program, Gogo prohibits researchers from publicly disclosing vulnerabilities that are discovered. From a reward perspective, Ellis said that Gogo decided to issue rewards in line with Bugcrowd’s Vulnerability Rating Taxonomy, which is an effort to normalize vulnerability prioritization and pricing, and create clear expectations between the hackers and the program owners.

Sean Michael Kerner is a senior editor at eWEEK and InternetNews.com. Follow him on Twitter @TechJournalist

Sean Michael Kerner

Sean Michael Kerner

Sean Michael Kerner is an Internet consultant, strategist, and contributor to several leading IT business web sites.