China-tied Group breached United Airlines’ Servers, Stole Only Flight Records

30 Jul 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Chinese hackers also breached United Airlines, report says.

United Airlines, the world’s second-largest airline by seat capacity, was the target of a group of Chinese hackers who were behind one of the largest breaches of government data in U.S. history.

The world’s second-largest airline detected an intrusion into its computer systems early this summer, Bloomberg reported in a story citing unnamed officials familiar with the investigation. It included flight manifests, which would have given the hackers access to information about what passengers were on which planes and where they were coming from and going to, Bloomberg reported. “These reports are based on pure speculation, and we can assure our customers that their personal information is secure. Among the data stolen from United are manifests that contain information on flights’ passengers and their movements across the world, added Bloomberg.

The breach reportedly occurred “ in May or early June,” and compromised a variety of the Airline’s IT systems and, according to Bloomberg, means the hackers have “data on the movements of millions of Americans.” The White House revealed the attack in June when it admitted hackers had breached the Office of Personnel Management (OPM), compromising the details of roughly 4 million staff. We remain vigilant in protecting against unauthorized access and use top advisors and best practices on cyber-security to maintain our effectiveness,” spokesman Luke Punzenberger said in an email. If it proves accurate, the amount of data amassed by the same group of hackers is staggering, and the potential for cross-referencing across different databases is endless. The theft of airline information could be used to cross-check travel patterns for government and military officials, providing more clarity on the dealings of top American government staff members. While the United States has declined to point fingers at China, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper has called China the “leading suspect” in the OPM hacks.

The China-backed team of hackers are said to have hit at least 10 companies and organizations, according to security firm FireEye. “You’re suspicious of some guy; you happen to notice that he flew to Papua New Guinea on June 23 and now you can see that the Americans have flown there on June 22 or 23,” James Lewis, a senior fellow in cybersecurity at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, told Bloomberg. “If you’re China, you’re looking for those things that will give you a better picture of what the other side is up to.” This comes after news that United UAL -2.07% had awarded two hackers one million free frequent flyer miles each as “bug bounties” for helping to flag security flaws in their system. The report follows warnings from the US government that China is collecting data on US business and government departments as part of a wider plan to develop infrastructure-killing cyber weapons.

Some researchers have linked the OPM intrusion to the same cyber espionage group that hacked health insurance giant Anthem, which is also thought to be the work of hackers associated with the Chinese government. The US Department of Defense (DoD) claimed China is developing attack tools that could knock a nation’s infrastructure offline using data stolen during high-profile hacks in May. The hackers appear to be targeting large caches of personal information to build a massive database of Americans’ personal information, according to some experts. And if hackers compromised United and were able to move from systems that handle things like flight records to networks that actually help keep planes up and running, that may put them in a position to be very disruptive, Tiao said.

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