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Computer hackers

Russian hackers penetrated US aviation as part of attack on American infrastructure

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 17 March, 2018, 5:46am
UPDATED : Saturday, 17 March, 2018, 7:32am

Russian hackers penetrated the US civilian aviation system in early 2017 as part of a broad assault on the nation’s sensitive infrastructure, a consortium designed to protect the industry has said.

“It hit a part of our very broad membership,” said Jeff Troy, executive director of the Aviation Information Sharing and Analysis Centre, on Friday.

The intrusion wasn’t something that would directly harm air planes or airlines, he added, “but I did see that this impacted some companies that are in the aviation sector”.

Troy would not elaborate on the nature of the breach and declined to identify specific companies or the affected sector, but said the industry has taken steps to prevent a repeat of the intrusion.

US says Russia tried to hack its energy grid 

His comments confirmed the impact on aviation from a Russian attack that was described more broadly on Thursday by US government officials. 

The assault was aimed at the electric grid, water processing plants and other targets, the officials said, in the first formal confirmation of Russia’s role.

The Department of Homeland Security and Federal Bureau of Investigation identified aviation as one of the targets, but did not provide specifics.

The Russian government hacking operation aimed at the US power grid did not compromise operations at any of the nation’s commercial nuclear power plants, federal regulators and the nuclear industry said on Friday.

US nuclear plants are designed as operational “islands” that are not connected to the internet and other networks. Nuclear power provides about 20 per cent of the nation’s electricity.

The Nuclear Energy Institute, an industry lobbying group, said the hacking campaign “demonstrated that America’s nuclear plants can withstand a nation-state sponsored attack.”

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Troy’s group, also known as A-ISAC, represents aircraft manufacturers, equipment suppliers, satellite builders, airports and airlines, among other elements of the broad industry. 

Similar groups monitoring cyberattacks across more than a dozen sectors of the economy were formed by a presidential directive in 1998 and were strengthened several years later after the September 11, attacks.

A disruption of the airline and private-aircraft systems could have enormous economic and psychological effects.

In recent years, several airlines have had to halt operations and suffered millions of dollars of lost revenue when their computer reservation systems crashed, for example. Terrorists have long targeted aviation because of its out-sized impact on society.

US officials said the hackers chose their targets methodically, obtained access to computer systems, conducted “network reconnaissance” and then attempted to cover their tracks by deleting evidence of the intrusions.

The US government has helped the industries expel the Russians from all systems known to have been penetrated, but additional breaches could be discovered, officials said.

Energy Secretary Rick Perry said his department worked closely with other agencies and energy providers to help ensure that hacking attempts “failed or were stopped.”

Perry said he is creating an Office of Cyber Security and Emergency Response to consolidate and strengthen efforts to “combat the growing nefarious cyber threats we face.”

The accusations that Russia was behind the cyberattacks on US infrastructure came as the Trump administration targeted Russians with sanctions for alleged election meddling for the first time since President Donald Trump took office.

The list of Russians being punished includes all 13 indicted last month by special counsel Robert Mueller, a tacit acknowledgement by the administration that at least some of Mueller’s Russia-related probe has merit.