Expert questions security of airline industry’s computer systems

Delta Air Lines said a power outage caused hundreds of flight cancellations and delays on Monday

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WYTV) – It was a difficult day for Delta customers as the company grounded flights all over the world, including Akron, Cleveland and Pittsburgh.

The airline said a power outage around 2:30 a.m. Eastern Time at a facility in Atlanta started the meltdown.

Thousands of passengers were stranded in airports Monday, with continued cancellations and delays. Delta has about 6,000 flights on a Monday but after the outage, only a handful took off.

“If all your stuff is all centralized in one data center, if that data center were to lose power, then yeah, I can see where your stuff would go out,” said Joe Danyi with Youngstown Computer. “But usually, data centers have that contingency built in so that if they lose power, they go to backup generators.”

The same situation happened with Southwest Airlines in July, canceling over 2,000 flights. Computer problems also delayed flights for JetBlue in May and United Airlines last year.

“When this kind of stuff happens, we evaluate everything. We look at all of our systems and find out which one would be next in line, exposes us to the biggest vulnerability,” Danyi said. “I have a feeling this is going to make people catch any big vulnerabilities, this is going to make it happen.”

He thinks airline systems get attempted hacks regularly, and is waiting to see if either Delta or Southwest will admit to being hacked.

“Ticketing would be the most lucrative for the bad guys. Who’s on every airplane, what schedule are they running on, where are they going? I mean, they publicize most of the stuff when you go to buy the ticket, this is just centralized.”

Travelers checking their phones and computers were unable to get accurate flight information.

“I think it’s just intriguing to show how dependent we are on computer systems,” Danyi said.

He says the airline industry’s computers may be older than we want to know.

“I can just imagine that kiosk dump terminal is Windows 98, Windows XP, is what I would picture.”

Danyi recommends staying away from an airline that has had trouble with its computer system for about six months after. At that point, he feels the system has been repaired and is stronger.

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