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Are cyber warriors targeting airline IT systems?

February 17, 2017 Headline News No Comments Email Email

Suspicion is growing that something sinister is behind a mysterious rash of IT system breakdowns and outages that have affected one airline after another, triggering thousands of delays and flight cancellations throughout the US and beyond.

US travel site notes a “suspiciously rough few weeks for airline IT systems” as American, Alaska, Southwest, Delta, and United  have suffered system crashes and outages.

Financial site Motley Fool, commenting on the Delta Air Lines outage, pointed out that Delta has 83,000 employees and generates over USD 40 billion in annual revenue. It can afford to plough plenty of money into its IT security to ensure systems don’t just “stop working”.

Data scramble takes a non-conspiracy view, saying antiquated IT systems “mashed together from multiple, merged airlines” plus problems at Sabre may have a lot to do with it. Even so, Skift admits, “why now and why so many airlines? It’s almost as if someone was testing our country’s infrastructure…”

The outages come against a background of hacking in the US, with incidents ranging from alleged penetration of US political party computers by Russian hackers, to suspected cyber espionage by China, to hacking of corporate multinationals to steal trade secrets. Add to that instances of hotel res systems being compromised, or held hostage, by cyber criminals.

The FBI is said to maintain a room with a huge monitor screen that tracks cyber attacks in real time. A sustained cyber attack on almost 50 American banks from 2011 to 2013 was said to have been traced back to Iran’s Revolutionary Guard.


In this climate, some observers wonder if recent big IT outages at Delta and United are more than coincidence.

Cyber criminals are certainly on the prowl. Last year, figures from Trend Micro indicated the extent of the ransomware scourge, with more than 1.1 million ransomware threats detected in Australia alone during the first half of last year. Trend Micro reported a 172% increase in ransomware infections overall, with AUD 4 billion in business losses and 79 new ransomware types identified during the first half of 2016.

If criminals can achieve that sort of thing, imagine what really big players, like governments, can do.

Written by Peter Needham

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