The Kuala Lumpur-bound Malaysia Airlines MH17 passenger plane crashed Thursday near the Russian border, killing all the 298 passengers and crew members on board.
Buk missiles track their targets using semi-active radar, in which the missile serves as a passive detector of radar signals reflected off the target from a separate transmitter.
Without the added weight of on-board radar transmitters, these missiles can be launched over greater distances.
The Buk weapon system is designed to target cruise missiles, fixed and rotary wing aircraft, or smartbombs.
Such medium-range, surface-to-air missile systems are designed for minimal setup time.
The flight took off from Amsterdam's Schiphol airport and was flying at about 33,000 feet when it disappeared from radar near the Russian border in Ukrainian airspace.
"This is well within the range of a Buk launcher, which can fire missiles up to an altitude of 72,000 feet," Live Science reported.
Most surface-to-air missile systems are equipped with identification friend-or-foe (IFF) systems.
These are designed to relay critical information about a target, such as its range and bearing, before a weapon is launched.
"A plane flying at cruising altitude like this would likely be 'very difficult' to mistake for a military plane," aviation expert Mary Schiavo was quoted as saying in media reports.
Pro-Russian rebels reportedly shot down a Ukrainian cargo plane and a fighter jet earlier this week using such missiles, the reports added.