Israel Implementing IFF System for Commercial Aircraft
Israel is implementing an IFF (identification, friend or foe) system for commercial aircraft, designed to differentiate legitimate planes from terrorist-controlled planes.
The news article implies that it’s a basic challenge-and-response system. Ground control issues some kind of alphanumeric challenge to the plane. The pilot types the challenge into some hand-held computer device, and reads back the reply. Authentication is achieved by 1) physical possession of the device, and 2) typing a legitimate PIN into the device to activate it.
The article talks about a distress mode, where the pilot signals that a terrorist is holding a gun to his head. Likely, that’s done by typing a special distress PIN into the device, and reading back whatever the screen displays.
The military has had this sort of system—first paper-based, and eventually computer-based—for decades. The critical issue with using this on commercial aircraft is how to deal with user error. The system has to be easy enough to use, and the parts hard enough to lose, that there won’t be a lot of false alarms.