Hacking has an increasingly significant impact on the real world thanks to the proliferation of internet-connected devices.
Cars’ onboard systems can be disrupted, home security systems can be overridden, even military defense systems can be compromised. Add the air travel industry to that list.
Airliners and their customers are coming to grips with the reality of cybercriminal activity and its impact on getting people from point A to point B. Attacks on airlines have exploded by 15,000% between 2017 and 2018, and carriers are more often finding themselves with network outages, grounded flights and upset passengers.
Already this year, Alaska Airlines and Southwest have encountered system outages because of hacking activities, both of which resulted in flight cancellations and a surge of customer complaints. So it appears that the targeting of major carriers won’t slow down anytime soon.
Not all attacks on airlines have the same consequences (e.g., grounded flights). Hackers could also breach or disrupt airlines to steal customer information, disrupt flight sales or otherwise defraud these organizations. Of particular note, airline companies have experienced an alarming uptick in distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks, in which cyber criminals flood servers with requests to destabilize websites or resources. While these attacks don’t gain as much press, their impacts still can be detrimental, leading to major losses in sales and reputational damage.
In response to the surge of hacking activity, airlines have begun building cybersecurity into the culture of their organizations. While this is an important step for securing networks and data, there are other protections – such as secure network design, continuous monitoring and cyber intelligence – that should also play a central role.
For air travel customers, it’s impossible to predict when your travel could be disrupted by hacking activity. But you can protect yourself by paying attention to the track record of the airlines you book with, purchasing travel insurance and booking far in advance.