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Cyber
404: Flight Not Found
CBS CSI CYBER 211 CONTENT CIAN IMAGE NO LOGO thumb Master
Season 2
Number 11
Writer Thomas Hoppe
Director Skipp Sudduth
Original Airdate January 11, 2016
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Next Episode: Going Viral

404: Flight Not Found is the 11th episode in Season Two of CSI: Cyber.

Synopsis[]

The team is drawn into the world's first case of cyber-hijacking when they investigate what appears to be a hack into air traffic control.

Plot[]

Software-defined radio - used to imitate radio frequencies in order to infiltrate secure networks.

An air traffic controller alerts the pilots of Argus Air flight 272 that the plane has deviated from its flight plan and is heading into a storm. Attempts to radio the pilots are met with static, while the pilots encounter the same issue when trying to contact Air Traffic Control. Suddenly, dozens of planes appear on the scope, all of them Flight 272. As quickly as the phantom planes appear, they all disappear—Flight 272 is now nowhere to be found.

Avery and Elijah are alerted that a cyber intrusion was uncovered; someone assigned Flight 272 an unauthenticated flight plan before takeoff, something the pilot couldn't have known. This would explain why the plane was flying directly into a storm. Avery worries that if the hacker has already intruded the system, then every flight in the sky could be vulnerable.

Avery informs the media of the cyber intrusion in the flight plan database. While nobody has come forward to take credit for the hack, it's known that the plane was intentionally diverted from its path. She ensures a grieving mother that everyone's top priority is finding the plane and that she'll do everything she can to find it and bring the passengers home safely.

At Air Traffic Control, Krumitz and Nelson find nothing that explains the phantom planes appearing on the scope; the equipment also checks out. Krmuitz theorizes that the plane's onboard GPS device may have been tampered with. He triangulates the last known location of the GPS device and pinpoints the exact location of where the real flight should be. The reading has the plane in Wilmington, North Carolina at an alarmingly low altitude, suggesting a crash. However, when the supposed site of the crash is searched, there's no plane to be found.

Elijah and Krumitz search the open field and find fresh tire tracks. There's evidence that something was unloaded at that spot; however, only empty boxes and a bunch of cords remain. Their attention soon turns to a metallic object stuck in a tree. When it's repaired and inflated at headquarters, it's determined to be an inflatable antenna. While such a device is usually used by the military for communication during ground combat, this one was used for software-defined radio. The SD radio attached to the antenna can spoof GPS signals, which is why it could tell Air Traffic Control that there were planes in the sky even when there weren't any. Meanwhile, Air Traffic Control wouldn't be able to tell the difference between real planes and fake ones. Elijah summarizes the sequence of events: the hacker assigned Flight 272 an unauthorized flight plan, and the plane was diverted per those instructions. They then spoofed a bunch of signals so Air Traffic Control couldn't keep track of the real plane, which just slipped away. Elijah concludes that this is actually a cyber hijacking.

The search area radius for the plane is narrowed down to a whopping 500,000 square miles. Since it disappeared into bad weather, there's no way of knowing which direction it's heading. There have been no reports of a crash; however, the plane only has a few hours of fuel left and no plan on where to land. Since ground-based radar has yet to find anything, the assumption is that the plane is out to sea. Krumitz points out that not only is the plane's GPS signal not working, the other communication devices have also gone silent. He believes that there could be a device, such as a signal disruptor, that's interfering with the signals. Such a device would've had to been physically brought on board, which narrows the suspect field down to 75 people—71 passengers and four crew members.

Nelson and Raven go through the passenger manifest and identify possible suspects, including one man who purchased a ticket on the same day of the flight and another who purchased a one-way ticket. Avery notes that the cyber hijacker's plan is rather high-risk. This person would have to be onboard to make the plan work, and Avery wonders why Flight 272 would be specifically targeted.

Artie Sneed arrives at headquarters and demands to speak with Elijah or Krumitz; he believes he can help figure out why the plane has vanished. He forms the outline of a plane using police tape and has techs stand in various areas to represent the different pieces of communication used on the plane. Krumitz uses a signal jammer and points out that anyone sitting in the first 15 rows can block the instruments in the cockpit; however, there's a bigger issue at play. He explains that engine manufacturers equip the engines with self-diagnostic tools that wirelessly talk to the ground; these, too, are offline. Artie says that a normal signal jammer wouldn't be able to affect the entire plane, and he pulls a white noise generator from his stash of devices. He describes the device as a "signal jammer on steroids," and he's able to disrupt all of headquarters' electronic devices with it. This, he explains, is the only thing strong enough to make Flight 272 invisible, and someone smuggled it onto the plane.

Video surveillance from airport security shows Erica Chan passing a portable oxygen container through security, which she was permitted to do thanks to a doctor's note. The team finds it odd that Erica, a healthy-looking woman in her 20s, would need a breathing apparatus. It's determined that this is the white noise generator and that Erica is the hijacker.

A search of Erica's background shows that she went to one of the top universities in China, where she majored in computer science. Avery believes that she's not a terrorist, as she hasn't held the passengers hostage or made demands. Raven finds another intrusion, which shows that Erica hacked into a Tampa Bay pharmacy near the airport and prescribed herself 20 milligrams of liquid morphine. Erica has hijacked a plane and taken along a powerful sedative, leading Avery to conclude that the hijacking was just the first step—Erica is after someone on the flight. Onboard the plane, Erica sits next to a male passenger and slips something into his drink when he isn't looking.

U.S. Marshal Margaret Stoller informs Avery that another U.S. Marshal, Irvin Minkler, is onboard the plane; he's been flying under a pseudonym, which is why he didn't come up on the passenger manifest. We see from the picture that this is the same man who Erica drugged. Avery is able to determine that Irvin is on the job guarding someone who's in witness protection. When shown a picture of Erica Chan, Margaret says that the young woman is on the flight to kill a witness. Her target is 16-year-old Natalie Roth, who has been living under the alias Rebecca Taylor. Avery recognizes Rebecca's name, identifying her as one of the girls onboard coming back from a volleyball trip. Rebecca witnessed a murder at the hands of a lieutenant in the Chinese Triads; the other three witnesses have all turned up dead in the past year. Margaret warns that either Erica will kill her mark or die trying.

Krumitz and Nelson know that A) they can't find the plane because of the white noise generator, and B) they can't get rid of the white noise generator because they're not on the plane. They need to find something on the plane that's still operating and allows them to communicate with Flight 272 despite the white noise generator. Krumitz realizes that the plane's in-flight entertainment system communicates at a frequency higher than the generator, which should allow them to hear the frequency. Using this, the plane's location is found.

Something isn't sitting right with Avery. She notes that if Erica and already killed Rebecca, she would want the flight grounded as soon as possible to aid in her escape. The longer the plane is in the air, the higher the chance she gets caught. Raven finds that Erica was able to scam a low-level marshal, providing her with the flight number and the U.S. marshal transporting the witness. However, the name of the witness isn't anywhere in the hacked email. This would be what Erica is waiting for—she doesn't know the name of the witness. She diverted the plane with the flight-plan hack to provide her with enough time to identify her target.

Avery figures that Irvin wouldn't be sitting near Rebecca in order to avoid drawing attention to himself. The team needs to find a way to inform Irvin that he's in danger, and Krumitz mentions that the in-flight entertainment system can be used to send him a message. Irvin's seat number is located on the manifest and a message is sent out; however, unbeknownst to the team, he had given up his seat to Erica. With Irvin passed out, Erica reads the message informing the marshal that his witness is compromised. Erica responds, threatening to take down the plane if the name of the witness isn't revealed. The hijacking has now turned into a standoff at 30,000 feet.

Fighter pilots make visual contact with Flight 272 and prepare to escort it in for a landing. Suddenly, the plane starts losing altitude rapidly; Avery realizes that this is Erica's counterattack. With a few clicks of her laptop, Erica restores the plane to a steady cruising altitude. The team realizes that she can control the engines by issuing commands through the plane's thrust-management computer, which is hard-wired through the entertainment system. They hope that they can kick Erica off the system, but a worst-case scenario would require the pilot to pull the onboard computer, leaving the plane with only partial hydraulics. Thus, the plane would be difficult to fly and even more difficult to land safely.

Krumitz verifies that the only way to ensure Erica can't take control of the plane is pull the onboard computer. While Raven tries to kick Erica off the entertainment system, Avery tries to negotiate with her. The negotiations fail, as Erica responds with a message: "Either I kill the witness or I kill us all. Your choice."

The fighter pilots have been given permission to shoot the plane down if it gets too close to a metropolitan area while still under Erica's control. At the speed the plane is traveling, the team has only ten minutes to come up with a solution. Raven notes that they still have a problem: even if she kicks Erica off the plane's system, there's nothing to prevent her from hacking back in. Avery gets the idea to contact another passenger through the entertainment system, instructing him to get the laptop away from Erica at all costs. The passenger tries to do so, but Erica pushes a button and causes the plane to rapidly descend once again.

It's determined that Erica's final act of vengeance was to zero out the plane's thrust, preventing the pilot from overpowering the autopilot. The last course of action is to unplug the onboard computer. Since the entertainment system doesn't connect with the cockpit, the message is relayed to one of the fighter pilots. Using a light to send Morse code, the message is relayed. The onboard computer is unplugged, stabilizing the plane and allowing the pilot to regain control.

The plane lands safely, and Erica is arrested. Back in headquarters, Artie provides Avery with a flash drive that contains a patch for the in-flight entertainment system. Avery thanks him for his assistance and informs him that she's hired him as a consultant.

Cast[]

Main Cast[]

Guest Cast[]

  • Emmitt Smith as Himself
  • Sean Blakemore as Director Silver
  • Dameon Clarke as Edward Daniels
  • Ramon De Ocampo as Stewart Collingsworth
  • Marcus Giamatti as Artie Sneed
  • Brian Howe as Richard Reynolds
  • Marcus Ashley as Irvin Minkler
  • Andrew Asper as Anthony Briggs
  • Julius Denem as Paul Lammers
  • Josh Drennen as FBI Agent
  • Monique Gall as NTSB Investigator
  • Pilar Holland as Reporter
  • Victoria Park as Erica Chan
  • Marisol Ramirez as Margaret Stoller
  • Gillian Brashear as Debra Custer

Notes[]

  • Ted Danson (Russell) is credited but does not appear in the episode.
  • Krumitz arranges a date with Agent Rosalyn Pierce, who he met in the episode Red Crone.
  • Despite being hired as a consultant, Artie Sneed never appears again.

Trivia[]

  • Hall of Fame running back Emmitt Smith appears as himself in the episode. As of 2023, Smith holds the NFL records for most career rushing yards (18,355), most career rushing touchdowns (164), and most career rushing attempts (4,409).

See Also[]

CSI:Cyber Season 2
Why-FiHeart MeBrown Eyes, Blue EyesRed CroneHack E.R.Gone in 6 SecondsCorrupted MemoryPythoniWitnessShades of Grey404: Flight Not FoundGoing ViralThe Walking DeadFit-and-RunPython's Revenge5 Deadly SinsFlash SquadLegacy


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