At civilians’ expense: Was a commercial Delta flight a cyber hack test by a foreign government?

Monday, August 22, 2016 by

Earlier this week, tens of thousands of Delta Air Lines passengers were stranded after all of the company’s flights were grounded around the world because of what airline described as a mere system outage.

And while the outage was resolved fairly quickly, it still disrupted the airline’s travel schedule and left more than a few passengers scrambling to find other flights or deal with cancellations.

“Customers heading to the airport should expect delays and cancellations,” Delta warned in a statement. “While inquiries are high and wait times are long, our customer service agents are doing everything they can to assist.”

Delta blamed the interruption to its flight data systems on a power outage in Atlanta, where the airline is headquartered. But then something strange happened: the power company, Georgia Power, disputed that claim.

“We believe that Delta experienced an equipment failure overnight that caused a power outage,” Craig Bell, a spokesman for Georgia Power, said in an interview with USA Today. “Our crews have been out there all morning closely with Delta and their team as they repair the affected equipment. We don’t believe it was a Georgia Power issue.”

Whatever it was, it grounded an entire airline.

In July, Southwest Airlines experienced a similar glitch in technology that led to multi-day disruptions of thousands of flight. The airline blamed a router failure which it said then cascaded on July 20, taking reservation systems offline and taking several days to figure out and resolve. More than 2,300 flights were canceled, while flight-tracking services estimated that about 8,000 flights were late.

Some suspect that hackers may be at work in both cases – perhaps from China, Russia or even Iran. Consider some recent incidents:

— In 2011, hackers that were linked to the Iranian government launched cyber attacks on about four dozen U.S. financial institutions, including the New York Stock Exchange, Nasdaq, Bank of America Corp., JPMorgan Chase & Co. and AT&T Inc. and others, according to a federal indictment. But that’s not all. In 2013, an Iranian hacker also got unauthorized access to a small dam in New York, obtaining data about the dam’s status and operation as well as details like water levels and temperature for nearly three weeks.

— China has repeatedly hacked the Interior Department’s systems to gain information about dams all over the United States. If a hacker could control the systems he or she could kill thousands of Americans by flooding entire regions. Also, the nation’s system of agriculture would be disrupted in areas dependent on water from dams.

— In June U.S. authorities moved to indict another Chinese hacker – codenamed “UglyGorilla” – after he hacked into the computer system of a utility company in the nation’s northeast, where tens of millions of Americans call home. And while the hacker stole schematics of pipelines, got access to systems controlling the flow of natural gas and perused channels where, at the touch of a few keys, he could have made a pipeline explode or cut off heat to an entire city – his mission appeared to be focused on how China could information from the utility to wage war.

Imagine if a hacker could access all of the U.S. power grid, or sabotage and disable entire flight control systems of nearly all major airlines. What kind of chaos would ensue?

It’s not likely that Southwest or Delta would admit their systems were hacked, if indeed they were, out of security concerns. But two “glitches” in a couple weeks is certainly out of the ordinary.

Sources for this story include:

USAToday.com

Bloomberg.com

Cyberwar.news

Bloomberg.com

USAToday.com



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