Lawmaker Questions Airlines, Plane Manufacturers On Cybersecurity Measures

Eight months after a government report found that airplanes with WiFi connections may be vulnerable to cyber attacks and seven months after a hacker claimed to have commandeered a United Airlines flight via the plane’s in-flight entertainment system, one lawmaker wants to know just what airlines are doing to protect their computer systems — and passengers. 

Massachusetts Sen. Edward Markey sent letters to 12 domestic airlines and two airplane manufacturers on Wednesday in his latest push to ensure that cybersecurity and privacy vulnerabilities in the transportation sector are being taken seriously.

The letters [PDF] request information about the protections put in place by each of the carriers and manufacturers.

“As new technologies continue to enhance all aspects of the airline industry, airplanes and airline operations have become increasingly interconnected,” Markey wrote. “With these ethnological advancements come great benefits…However, as we’ve witnessed recently in the automobile industry, I am concerned that these technologies may also pose great threats to our security, privacy, and economy.”

The request, sent to American Airlines, Delta Airlines, Southwest Airlines, United Airlines, JetBlue Airways, Alaska Airlines, Spirit Airlines, Frontier Airlines, Hawaiian Airlines, Allegiant Air, Virgin America, and Sun Country Airlines, as well as the airplane manufacturers Airbus and Boeing, notes that some carriers have already experienced problems with computer systems, causing “substantial delays and the grounding of thousands of flights.”

Most recently, in October, Alaska Airlines suffered a “technical glitch” that delayed more than a dozen flights.

Southwest Airlines, American AirlinesSpirit Airlines and United Airlines all suffered computer issues recently that snarled air travel for many travelers, and even the Federal Aviation Administration said it suffered a technical issues that led to flight headaches in August.

Additionally, Markey points to reports that American – via its former subsidiary Sabre – and United may have suffered a data breach in August that could have put thousands of passengers’ information at risk.

“These recent examples highlight just some of the potential vulnerabilities airlines already face,” Markey wrote. “As technology rapidly continues to advance, we must all work to ensure that the airline industry remains vigilant in protecting its aircraft and systems from cybersecurity breaches and attacks.”

Among other things, Markey requested airlines detail what protections they currently have in place to combat hacks, what they plan to do in the future to keep up with sophisticated cyber attacks, and how often they conduct cybersecurity tests on planes’ computer systems.

Markey gave the companies until Jan. 11 to respond to his questions.

[via The Daily Dot]