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June 26, 2015

On June 21, 2015, a cyber-attack against Polish airline LOT grounded more than 1, 400 passengers at Frederic Chopin Airport at capital Warsaw. The attack reported as the first of its kind occurred at 1600 local time and targeted the airline ground operations system, which affected flight schedules. In all, it led to the cancellation of 10 flights departing from Warsaw and delays for another dozen flights. The issue was resolved by 2100 local time. The airline statement said the attack left it unable to create flight plans and flights were not able to depart from Warsaw. Polish security agencies are probing the source of attack. No significant progress in the investigation has been reported as yet. The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) stated in December 2014 that cyber-crime is seriously threatening flights safety, and pledged to establish a security culture to protect travellers against any disastrous incidents occurring. 

Analyst Comment: The growing use of internet-based technology has aroused fears that cyber terrorists could hack airplane systems and take control of them remotely. The incident with the Polish airlines will likely only enhance those concerns. Revelations about hackers exploiting in-flight entertainment systems to fatally sabotage cockpit electronics have also been reported. In fact, One World Labs security researcher Chris Roberts claimed in May that he had hacked the controls of a United Airlines jetliner from its entertainment system, which prompted an FBI investigation. Pinkerton advises clients in the airline industry to prepare a medium-to-short term strategy to tackle risks posed by hackers, and the impact of an untoward incident on their operations, brand reputation and above all, passenger safety. 

Prepared by: Ajay Vaishnav, India  

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