To access in-flight information, from GPS to data about nearby aircraft, private pilots use the same devices that casual pilots have access to, found researchers from the University of California - San Diego (UC-SD) and Johns Hopkins University in the US.

"When you attack these devices, you do not have control over the aircraft but you have control over the information the pilot sees which could lead to catastrophic outcomes," said lead researcher Kirill Levchenko from UC.

An attacker could tamper with the display of aircraft altitude, direction, position, weather data and positions of other aircraft to the pilot, and make pilots take actions detrimental to flight safety.

The researchers outlined some steps to check the flaws such as securing communication between receiver and tablet, pairing the receiver with the tablet, signing firmware updates and requiring explicit user interaction before updating device firmware.

"The systems are new to the market. It's a great time to make them secure from the get-go," Levchenko added.

The research was presented at a Conference on Computer and Communications Security held in the US recently.