A corrupted file affected both the main and backup computer systems used by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) this week, causing thousands of flights arriving and departing the US to be delayed, with hundreds cancelled, according to a few reports. The corrupted file has been blamed for a glitch on the Federal Aviation Administration's computer system.
Sky News reported that all outbound flights were grounded until around 9am Eastern Time (2pm GMT) on Wednesday (11th January) as the FAA worked to restore its Notice to Air Missions (NOTAM) system, which alerts pilots of potential hazards along a flight route.
Almost 5000 flights within, into or out of the US had been delayed, according to flight tracker FlightAware.com, while 868 had been cancelled. Normal air traffic operations resumed gradually across the US following the outage to the NOTAM system that provides safety information to flight crews.
"We are continuing a thorough review to determine the root cause of the Notice to Air Missions (NOTAM) system outage" the FAA said in an update.
"Our preliminary work has traced the outage to a damaged database file. At this time, there is no evidence of a cyberattack."
US President Joe Biden also reacted swiftly to questions that the outage might be caused by a cyberattack but appeared to rule it out once he had received a briefing, however, the president directed “[the US Department of Transport] to conduct a full investigation into the causes."
The fact that the FAA and the U.S. President reacted so swiftly to determine whether this was a cyber attack, only to discount it, just shows how spooked Government authorities and agencies are by these types of events.
The grounding flights sparked concern on social media where people began wondering what the cause of the computer malfunction was - with some quickly reaching for conspiracies and other theories, according to TheIndy100.
Whatever the cause, and at this early stage, it does appear to be a “mere” IT glitch, the episode is a clear example of the connected risk caused by the digitalisation of today’s global economy.
According to the Consortium for Information and Software Quality, as published in RayGun, poor software quality cost U.S. companies $2.08 trillion in 2020. These losses span all business sectors and include costs from operational failures, unsuccessful projects, and software errors in legacy systems.
Operational problems contributed the largest share, with $1.56 trillion in losses. In February 2020, more than 100 flights were disrupted at Heathrow Airport because of a software “glitch.”
Most, if not all, businesses rely on IT software to operate, which makes the potential losses caused by an IT glitch, and the associated inability to run the business, more likely and significant, according to a blog. This is a theme that Russell will be exploring throughout 2023, as our thinking on all things cyber and related to the digital plane, becomes more focused.