Life’s a breach: Reported attack on United Airlines shows everyone has …

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 hackers who stole data on tens of millions of US insurance holders and government employees in recent months breached another big target at around the same time — United Airlines. 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. 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. Since United is a major contractor for U.S. government travel, experts say that could mean that a vast cache of information about the movements of specific government or military officials are now in the attackers’ hands. The sources claim that investigators have since linked the attack to the Chinese hacking group responsible for the OPM hack, and another attack on health insurer Anthem Inc.

Office of Personnel Management compromised the sensitive information of 21.5 million people, including social security numbers for current and former federal workers, contractors, friends, and families. 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. 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. Files stolen from the federal personnel office by this one China-based group could allow the hackers to identify Americans who work in defense and intelligence, including those on the payrolls of contractors. The hackers appear to be targeting large caches of personal information to build a massive database of Americans’ personal information, according to some experts.

That data could be cross-referenced with stolen medical and financial records, revealing possible avenues for blackmailing or recruiting people who have security clearances. Two additional people close to the probe, who like the others asked not to be identified when discussing the investigation, say the carrier has found no connection between the hack and a July 8 systems failure that halted flights for two hours. 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. Zhu Haiquan, a spokesman for the Chinese embassy in Washington, released a statement which stated: “The Chinese government and the personnel in its institutions never engage in any form of cyberattack. In May, the OPM investigators began drawing up a list of possible victims in the private sector and provided the companies with digital signatures that would indicate their systems had been breached.

At least 50 successful hacks of the Command’s contractors were outlined in a 2014 report by the Senate Armed Services Committee. “The Chinese have been trying to get flight information from the government; now it looks as if they’re trying to do the same in the commercial sector,” said Tony Lawrence, a former Army sergeant and founder and chief executive officer of cybersecurity firm VOR Technology.

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