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Investigators intensify focus on plane's computer system

Tuesday - 3/18/2014, 2:40pm  ET

WASHINGTON -- Twelve days after the disappearance of Malaysian Airlines flight MH370, investigators are intensifying their focus on the plane's computer system.

New reports suggest key flight information was changed in the plane's flight management system causing it to change course.

WTOP first reported March 14, that Boeing had been concerned about the possibility the plane's systems could be compromised either in flight or during the maintenance stage and had previously initiated the process of upgrading systems to prevent breaches.

On Aug. 21, 2012, Boeing applied for permission to change the equipment to be installed as part of an onboard data network system upgrade on the 777 series of planes.

According to information listed in the Federal Register the existing "data network and design integration may result in security vulnerabilities from intentional or unintentional corruption of data and systems critical to the safety and maintenance of the airplane."

The bottom line, according to language in the Federal Register, "The integrated network configurations in the Boeing Model 777-200, -300, and -300ER series airplanes may enable increased connectivity with external network sources and will have more interconnected networks and systems, such as passenger entertainment and information services than previous airplane models. This may enable the exploitation of network security vulnerabilities and increased risks potentially resulting in unsafe conditions for the airplanes and occupants."

Boeing began making the changes to the aircraft in November 2013.

WTOP contacted Boeing with questions about their concerns and the changes regarding the aircraft. They have not yet responded to the request.

The investigation into what happened to Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, which has taken multiple turns, has left many unanswered questions about what is known.

"It is a Malaysian government investigation. We have been working in coordination with the Malaysian authorities through our (legal attachés) in Kuala Lumpur to assist them with their investigation," FBI Spokesman Paul Bresson told WTOP.

Numerous aviation, intelligence and security experts have offered theories about how and why the plane disappeared, but the suggestion that the plane's course could have been altered, leaving the pilots helpless to correct it does not sit well with Boeing 767 pilot Patrick Smith.

"It's exceptionally unlikely that it could happen. An airplane doesn't just track from point to point to point without the crew knowing about it," Smith said.

Smith, who is author of the book "Cockpit Confidential," said "(pilots) know the points the plane is tracking to and it happens at every waypoint."

Smith also dispelled the notion that a plane on autopilot can't be adjusted by the crew.

"Even the most automated flight is very organic. There are thousands of decisions made by a crew during a flight. Things can go wrong and things do go wrong, that's why the crew is there," Smith said.

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